Dissertation Index

Author: Ng, Samuel

Title: A Grundgestalt Interpretation of Metric Dissonance in the Music of Johannes Brahms

Institution: Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Begun: September 2003

Completed: July 2005


The complexity of Brahms’s metric dissonance has long intrigued performers, analysts and theorists. Recent scholarship on metric dissonance has approached the topic from a variety of perspectives, probing into such issues as the taxonomy of dissonance states, the relationship between metric dissonance and musical form, analogies between pitch structure and metric organization, and the rhetorical and dramatic aspects of metric dissonance usage. In this dissertation, I develop a new approach to the examination of large-scale organization of metric dissonance in Brahms’s music: I adopt Schoenberg’s Grundgestalt concept, and demonstrate how in certain compositions by Brahms a prominent metric dissonance can be understood as a metric Grundgestalt that serves as the basis for global development of rhythm and meter.

In Chapters 1 and 2, I tackle two fundamental questions behind the central thesis. First, although the Grundgestalt is predominantly understood as a tonal concept, I demonstrate the theoretical viability of a purely metric Grundgestalt by constructing temporal analogies to Patricia Carpenter’s ideas on the Grundgestalt concept. Second, while the notion of an autonomous metric dissonance that is susceptible to development and variation may seem suspect, past research on meter, rhythm, and metric dissonance has substantiated the consideration of rhythmic and metric developments as independent from tonal processes. These propositions open the possibility of conflating metric dissonance and metric Grundgestalt in the study of metric dissonance usage.

In Chapters 3-5, I illustrate the application of metric Grundgestalt to the analysis of large-scale metric dissonance organization in three pieces by Brahms. These analyses reveal three main routes for a metric Grundgestalt to exert its global effects: (1) a metric Grundgestalt may serve as the blueprint of the overall sequence of metric dissonance states; (2) a metric Grundgestalt may provide a link between surface metric disturbances and deeper hypermetric dissonances; and (3) a metric Grundgestalt may govern the temporal proportions between various contiguous and non-contiguous musical units. In each case, Schenkerian and form analyses further show that the development of the metric Grundgestalt may be coordinated with other musical parameters to enrich our understanding of formal, tonal, and rhetorical strategies.

Keywords: metric dissonance, Grundgestalt, Johannes Brahms, Cello Sonata op. 99, Horn Trio op. 40, Rhapsody op. 119/4, meter and hypermeter, mid-bar displacement, hemiola, hemiolic cycle


Chapter 1 Metric Dissonance: Overview and Appraisal
1. Introduction
2. Overview of Research on Metric Dissonance
3. A Synthesis of Current Research - Metric Dissonance in Brahms's Music

Chapter 2 Metric Grundgestalt and Metric Dissonance
1. The Dissemination of the Grundgestalt Concept
2. Patricia Carpenter’s Grundgestalt
3. A Metric Interpretation of the Grundgestalt
4. Autonomy of Metric Dissonance Development
5. Summary

Chapter 3 The Hemiolic Cycle in the First Movement of the Cello Sonata in F major, Op. 99
1. Introduction
2. The Hemiola - Overview of the Literature
3. The Hemiolic Cycle as a Transformational Interpretation of the Hemiola
4. The Hemiolic Cycle in the First Movement of Op. 99
5. Summary

Chapter 4 The Duple Opposition: Strong/Weak Beat Conflict in the First Movement of the Horn Trio in Eb major, Op. 40
1. The Duple Opposition — Submetric, Metric, and Hypermetric
2. Mid-bar Displacement as Duple Opposition
3. The Horn Trio in Eb Major, Op. 40 — Background and Form
4. Duple Opposition at the Notated Metric Level — the Refrains
5. Duple Opposition at Hypermetric Levels
6. Summary

Chapter 5 Juxtaposition of Duple and Triple in the Rhapsody in Eb, Op. 119, No. 4
1. Generality/Specificity of the Grundgestalt
2. Schenkerian Notions of Tonal/Metric Interaction
3. The Metric Grundgestalt of the Rhapsody
4. The Tonal Grundgestalt of the Rhapsody
5. The Metric Grundgestalt and Its Consequences
6. Summary

Chapter 6 Epilogue


School of Music
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Email: samng@lsu.edu

Phone: 225-578-6896

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