Dissertation Index

Author: Chung, Heewon

Title: Semitonal Relationships in Chopin\'s Music

Institution: University of Michigan

Begun: January 2013

Completed: April 2015


This dissertation investigates Chopin’s chromatic harmony and its coordination with chromatic voice leading, which produce modulations to remote tonal regions, by exploring his use of semitonal relationships. To the work of previous scholars who have discussed the audacity of Chopin’s harmonic practice and his extensive use of third relationships this study adds by focusing on semitonal relationships to help account for the individuality of Chopin’s approach to chromaticism as a distinctive feature of his compositional style.

One of the specific techniques identified in this dissertation, semitonal modulation, raises important issues in music theory as such a modulation often involves unusual voice-leading events. Such events disrupt a passage’s tonal focus, requiring both a reorientation on the listener’s part and an eventual reintegration of that event into a single-key framework. Combining a Schenkerian approach with ideas drawn from recent theories, the dissertation explains local chromatic events and phenomenological aspects of modulation to consider this reinterpretive process of listening. By incorporating these approaches into a reading, analysts can effectively show tonal disorientation of listeners in a local context and a retrospective understanding on a larger scale.

This dissertation addresses two main types of modulation—one involving a transformation between scale degree 1 and 7, the other involving a transformation between scale degree b6 and 5. I call the first type a leading-tone modulation, since it occurs when the tonic in one key changes into the leading tone of the new key. The second type involves a semitonal shift that Chopin handles in distinctive ways by emphasizing a note involved in that scale-degree transformation. The dissertation also sheds light on semitonal relationships as they affect musical parameters other than key areas, since Chopin’s use of semitonal relationships radiates into other elements of music; it thus offers analysts a new perspective to interpret forms, motives, and large-scale pitch structuring as well. Analytical in orientation, the dissertation examines a large number of Chopin’s works, including several Preludes and Nocturnes, the Ballades in G Minor (Op. 23) and F Minor (Op. 52), the Second Scherzo (Op. 31), and the Fantasy (Op. 49).

Keywords: Chromaticism, Chopin, Semitonal Relationships, Modulation



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