Dissertation Index

Author: Leydon, Rebecca V.

Title: Narrative Strategies and Debussy's Late Style

Institution: McGill University

Begun: September 1994

Completed: December 1996


Many music scholars share a belief in the deep-seated connection between music and language. This belief underlies the exploration of homologies between musical and linguistic structures that have been an important area of study within our field. In recent years, however, a number of scholars have been considering larger units of musical structure, taking as their model not the syntactic structure of the sentence, but rather the organizational structure of whole narrative texts. One goal of narratology is to investigate the ways that events experienced separately are comprehended as a unified whole. Because of its attention to the interplay of schema-driven and data-driven perception, narrative theory is suggestive of an approach to the study of the early post-tonal repertoire, music that involves both tonal configurations and atonal, "intra-opus" processes. Debussy's late works, which include the Etudes and the three Sonatas, exhibit a distinct style which combines elements of late nineteenth-century chromaticism with atonal features, innovative formal structures and new pitch resources. This study begins with the assumption that the large-scale tonal structure of most nineteenth-century instrumental music is analogous to the "plot" of a classical narrative text; in contrast, Debussy's quasi-tonal structures represent alternatives to that calssical narrative syntax. I view Debussy's innovative musical language as a departure from a prevailing "narrative code," which is embodied in works of composers like Wagner, and dominated by notions of tension and resolution, departure and return, and monumental formal structures. In contrast to this tonal idiom,

Debussy's late works exhibit other modes of organization which can be more accurately modeled using alternative story-types. The alternative narrative models I invoke come out of two main research areas: studies on the development of story-telling ability in children, and studies of the spatial and temporal relationships exhibited in the early silent cinema. Throughout this study I attempt to contextualize the array of narrative strategies manifested in Debussy's music within the general cultural reorientations of the early twentieth century that we identify as Modernism.

Keywords: Debussy, Etudes, Sonata for Flute Viola and Harp, Cello Sonata, Violin Sonata, Cinema, Film, Narrative, Children's Narrative


Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Theories of Narrative
Chapter 3. Musical Narrativity: Kinds of Stories in Debussy's Late Style
Chapter 4. Debussy's Late Style and the Devices of the Early Silent Cinema
Chapter 5. A Narrative Approach to the Analysis of the "Serenade" from the Cello Sonata.
Chapter 6. Summary and Conclusion.


R. Leydon
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Port Jefferson, New York 11777
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