Dissertation Index

Author: Eng, Clare Sher Ling

Title: Motif and Closure in Twentieth-Century Music: Bartók, Britten and Fauré

Institution: Yale University

Begun: August 2006

Completed: March 2012


By the end of the nineteenth century, Classical cadences had become reified elements whose expressive capability had weakened. They also acquired semantic qualities that they lacked when they were in currency, such as nostalgia and epigonism. Consequently, composers who desired expressive endings, and who wanted to avoid those qualities, were compelled to seek alternative technical means to communicate closure. My dissertation investigates how Bartók, Britten and Fauré—three twentieth-century composers of distinct musical styles—responded to this challenge. Adopting Leonard Meyer’s communication model of music, I posit that closure proceeds by convention. I propose that its conventions are divisible into three types (corpus-, composer- and work-specific), and that every judgment of closure is a negotiation between different, and different types of, conventions. I supplement work already done in identifying corpus-level conventions of closure in twentieth-century music by identifying those that are composer-specific, focusing on how Bartók, Britten and Fauré use a common means (motives) variously to create work-specific closure. Bartók recollects motives at their original pitch classes. He presents harmonic restatements of melodic motives, brings back motivic progressions, and creates what I term retrospective collages. Britten transforms the motives that he recollects. He weaves long modal melodies from short and previously disparate motives, reinterprets open-ended motives as concluding gestures, and uses motivic references to forge intertextual relationships in song cycles. Fauré in his late songs incorporates motives into cadences. Some cadences embed motives in various voices, others have similar outer-voice motion, and yet others interact with the poem’s text and/or narrative structure. For each composer, I show that the closural conventions gleaned from their music relate to corpus-level ones from earlier historical style periods. I also explore the possibility that the same motivic process might have different significance for closure in the music of different composers, discussing this topic in relation to partial (incomplete) restatements of motives in the music of Bartók and Britten. By taking into account features of a composer’s typical ending, I argue that we can arrive at more informed and nuanced interpretations of particular endings.

Keywords: closure, twentieth-century music, Bartók, Britten, Fauré, motif, motive, cadence


Chapter 1. Introduction
An Obituary and a Musical Problem
Theorizing the Communication of Closure
Conventions of Closure since the Classical Period
Dissertation Outline

Chapter 2. Motivic Recollection in the Music of Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Bartók’s Motivic Processes of Closure
Conversion of Melody to Harmony
Restatement of Motivic Progression
Retrospective Collage
Is There a Case for Closural Failure?

Chapter 3. Motivic Transformation in the Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Britten’s Motivic Processes of Closure
Transformation of Motives into Modal Melody
The Unbearable Openness of Epiphany: Closural Failure in the Third Cello Suite, op. 87
Reinterpretation of Open-Ended Motif
Partial Motivic Restatement in Britten and Bartók
Motif Manipulation to Create Intertextual Relationships

Chapter 4. Motivic Cadencing in the Late Songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Characteristics of the Late Music of Gabriel Fauré
Cadential Norms in Fauré’s Late Music
Fauré’s Treatment of Classical Parameters of Cadential Closure
Aspects of Song Analysis
Fauré’s Techniques for Contextualizing Cadences
Motif Embedding
Outer-Voice Correspondence
Interactions with Text
Closure in the Song Cycle
Cadential Motives and Musical Memory in Mirages, op. 113

Chapter 5. Conclusion


College of Visual & Performing Arts
School of Music
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