Downloadable Dissertation

A PDF of Richards’ full dissertation can be downloaded by clicking on the link below:

Full Dissertation (7.5 MB)

“Analyzing Tension and Drama in Beethoven’s First-Movement Sonata Forms”
342 pp.
PhD in Music Theory (2011)
University of Toronto

Dissertation Abstract

Dramatic, in the sense of “highly intense,” is a quality we often associate with the music of Beethoven, but no theory has attempted to define drama in any systematic manner. This study therefore explores the idea by constructing a theory that distinguishes between dramatic and nondramatic passages. At the core of the theory is the notion that drama is the result of several types of tension occurring simultaneously. Dramatic passages have a “High” tension level, whereas non-dramatic ones have a “Low” level. Individual tension types are divided into two categories: rhetorical and syntactical. Rhetorical tension types include such features as a loud dynamic, a fast rhythm, and a thick texture, which need no musical context to be expressed. By contrast, syntactical tension types include such features as chromaticism, metric irregularity, and phrase expansion, which always require a comparison of events to be expressed. Only tension types from the same category may combine to form drama.

Because this study examines the relationships between drama and sonata form, the analysis of form is a key issue that receives a separate chapter and additional thought throughout. The methodology combines aspects of William E. Caplin’s theory of formal functions and James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s Sonata Theory, and is applied to all of Beethoven’s firstmovement sonata forms, a total of eighty-seven movements. Each formal unit is analyzed as one of six dramatic “archetypes” that describe a basic outline of High and/or Low tension levels. These archetypes constitute the dramatic structure of the piece.

Percentage frequencies of the archetypes were calculated for each formal unit in the movements as a whole, and as grouped by the categories of key, mode, genre, and style period. The greatest distinctions in dramatic structure occur among the three style periods of early, middle, and late, the early works showing a sectional approach with contrasting tension between phrases and the middle to late works gradually becoming more continuous, maintaining the same tension levels between units. A concluding analysis of Beethoven’s String Trio, op. 3, demonstrates the theory’s ability to enrich the interpretation of an individual work.

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