Melody, Counterpoint, and Tonality in Shostakovich's String Quartets Nos. 1--8, Issues 1-8

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Yale University, 2008 - Counterpoint - 215 pages
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The dissertation develops a theory and analytic method for Shostakovich's first eight quartets. Because of the ambiguous nature of the musical language, the quartets not only admit but require multiple and even conflicting interpretations. The music sets up tonal and formal expectations, only to defy them with so-called wrong-note harmonies and unexpected turns of phrase. Although commentators have mostly dismissed these techniques as superficial ironic effects or politically motivated doublespeak, I argue that they are vital to the musical structure. Shostakovich's music thus sets itself apart from tonal music of the common-practice era as well as from non-tonal music of the twentieth century, and requires a new approach. To fill this need, the dissertation creates tools to help analysts determine the nature and strength of tonality in a passage; identifies stylistically typical embellishments and mid-level structures in the quartets; and develops a method for graphically analyzing melody, counterpoint, and functional harmony.

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