Prolongation in the choral music of Benjamin Britten
Forrest, David L.
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While many theorists have applied Schenkerâ€™s theory of prolongation to post-tonal music, such studies have met with fierce criticism. Much of the debate over post-tonal prolongation has focused on the non-triadic music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Berg, Webern, BartÃ³k and others. Less has been said about triadic post-tonal music. Because triadic post-tonal music borrows techniques from both tonal and post-tonal traditions, it fits comfortably into neither category. Based on the current state of research, it is not entirely clear where triadic post-tonal music fits into the debate over prolongation. Brittenâ€™s triadic post-tonal music presents special challenges for prolongational analysis. On the one hand, the surface of Brittenâ€™s music is predominantly triadic. This makes prolongational analysis tempting. However, Brittenâ€™s music also features many hallmarks of post-tonality including non-functional harmony and free alterations of diatonic and non-diatonic scalar material. In addition, horizontal motion, both at the surface level and at deeper levels, is often governed by symmetrical divisions of pitch space. These post-tonal aspects contribute to a sense of tonal ambiguity that is a hallmark of Brittenâ€™s style. This dissertation contributes two observations about prolongational studies of Brittenâ€™s music. First, an acceptance of the prolongational potential of symmetrical interval cycles is essential to discovering Brittenâ€™s structural levels. Second, while prolongational analysis reveals underlying counterpoint in music from a wide range of styles, with Britten, prolongational analysis reveals a frequent lack of middleground counterpoint. Rather than two independent parts, all parts are dependent on the structurally superior melody. This realization invites a comparison between Brittenâ€™s music and Medieval organum. As with organum, it is often most profitable to look first at Brittenâ€™s melody and consider all other voices, including the bass, as subordinate parallel harmonizations of the melody. Chapter 1 of this dissertation will explore the theoretical concerns surrounding prolongation in post-tonal music and specific issues pertaining to prolongational approaches to Brittenâ€™s music. Chapters 2-4 include analyses of a capella choral pieces. This specific genre allows for an application of the current thesis within a unified texture. In Chapter 2, the top voice in Rosa Mystica is controlled by a background minor-third cycle. Chapter 3 shows how, in O Deus, Ego Amo Te, middleground minor-third and whole-tone cycles prolong a background minor-third cycle. Chapter 4 provides an analysis of the A section of Hymn to St. Cecilia where major-third cycles govern middleground prolongation of the initial tonic area. The War Requiem represents an amalgamation of each of these techniques in a comparatively rich texture. Chapter 5 explores the most representative passages of the War Requiem and concludes by applying the current thesis to one of the most texturally dense passages in the piece.