Dissertation Index

Author: Peterson, John R


Institution: Florida State University

Begun: August 2011

Completed: December 2014


Studies of musical agency have been growing in the field of music theory since the publication of Edward T. Cone’s book The Composer’s Voice (1974). Indeed, recent publications by scholars such as Robert Hatten and Seth Monahan demonstrate that musical agency continues to be a topic worthy of investigation today. These authors tend to explore the function of agents within a piece, without discussing the way agents arise in music. In this dissertation I work toward a solution to this problem by developing a theory of musical agency that explores the following questions: (1) How do virtual agents emerge in music? (2) What is the relationship between agency and narrative? (3) Can virtual agents influence music at levels deeper than the surface?

I propose that the concept of musical intention provides music theorists with a possible answer to this question. Action Theory, a robust subfield active in philosophy and sociology, views intentionality as a focal point in research on human agency—research that deserves more attention in studies of musical agency. Following assertions by action theorists Donald Davidson and Alfred Mele, I argue that an entity only attains the status of an agent when it performs an intentional act. With respect to music, then, I outline six categories of intentionality that can offer support to an agential hearing: gesture, contradiction of musical forces, unexpected event, conflict, repetition/restatement, and change of state. Further, I suggest that certain passages of music can be interpreted as intentional acts performed by virtual musical agents. I offer analyses of pieces by composers such as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert to demonstrate how one might apply my categories in an agential analysis.

Keywords: Agency, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schenkerian analysis, narrative


1. Overview of the Dissertation and Existing Literature
2. Musical Agency and the Categories of Intentionality
3. Musical Agency, Narrative, and Schenkerian Analysis
4. An Agential Analysis of Schubert\'s Piano Sonata in A, D. 959
5. Conclusion



     Return to dissertations