Dissertation Index

Author: Isaacson (Gozali) Atara

Title: Cantabile in the Romantic Piano Concerti with Emphasis on Schumann, Liszt and Brahms

Institution: Bar Ilan University

Begun: January 2003

Completed: November 2006


This study deals with the phenomenon of the cantabile in the concerti for piano and orchestra by Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. It scrutinizes the function of the term in five piano concerti by these composers. The singularity of the study lies in its isolation of this eminent and acute phenomenon as bearing a definitive role in the structure of these instrumental pieces, and as an element that reshapes the genre of the concerto.
Influenced by the singing style of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, the term cantabile is derived from a particular performative vocal model that is anchored in melody. Cantabile is manifest either as a performance approach, operatic style, topos, the tune of the slow movement in an instrumental piece or the simple song of an Aria. According to the findings of this study, the song (from late Beethoven onward) constitutes an ex post facto solution in different genres, playing a key role as a response to the many significant expressive situations that are an inseparable aspect of the Romantic artist's aesthetic perception. The cantabile is not only a unique moment in the musical text, but also has an emotional value that denotes and articulates the composer's inner-intimate voice of the composer. This mode of expression attains peaks of spiritual elevation when the music is absolute, void of text and relies on means of orchestration only.
This study is grounded in a perception of a work of music as an "emotional voyage," which carries both emotional and cognitive significances for the listener that is discernable in two stages of comprehension. First, the music stimulates the listener to experience a continuous flow of emotional states; second, the listener observes how the structure is responsible for creating the emotional effect. To facilitate the objectives of this study, I rely upon A. Newcomb and R. Hatten's narrative-based analytical methods. According to Newcomb and Hatten, the listener generates the narrative from his or her intuitive inner world in accordance to the atypical and surprising events that occur during the flowing motion of the musical text. In addition, the narrative may be informed by imagery from the non-musical realm as well, interpretations of musical gestures or the application of other theories such as the topoi theory.
Two forces dwell inside the genre of the Romantic piano concerto: lyricism and virtuosity which are both expressed essentially through the work's primary participants: the piano and the orchestra. The evolution of the plot in this highly dramatic genre is reliant upon an ongoing discourse between lyricism and virtuosity. These antithetical modes of expression simultaneously legitimatize and re-contextualize each other, while maintaining their individuality in the instrumental work. In each of the concerti, this struggle is manifest on two levels: first, it is apparent in the relationship between the piano and orchestra that both convey dramatic character; second, it occurs within each figure separately. The Romantic composer shifts from adhering to the formative contour of the structure to the exposure of solo-voices other than the piano. These voices enhance the presence of the main soloist, and occasionally substitute him with a chamber-like texture of dialogues that destabilizes the traditional tutti and indicates a transformation of the concertato principle.
Schumann, Liszt and Brahms create a new domain of relationships between the individual and the orchestral corpus within the concerto genre. This process is achieved by the application of aesthetic means that are unique to each of these composers who relate to and comprehend the two components of the work differently. Therefore, the cantabile acquires varied expressions of character and configuration. Although the three composers each seek out his individual voice within the framework of the genre, their piano concerti remain variations on the same idea: the pianist persona's quest for his 'true' voice. The pianist struggles with himself, but finally reveals the cantabile that is hidden inside him

Keywords: Romantic Era, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Cantabile, Piano, Concerto, Virtuosity, Lied


Chapter 1: The Concept of the Cantabile — Historical and theoretical background
Cantabile and singing
The cantabile paradox
The song as an emotional solution — as a center of expression
Definition of the cantabile in the concerti
Cantabile and virtuosity
Chapter 2: Methodology
Problems of the concerto genre
The approach of the three composers to the concerto
Aesthetic - narrative method

Chapter 3: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
The uniqueness of Schumann — Repetition and obsession
Chronological sequence of his compositions as background for writing the concerto
Schumann's outlook of the concerto genre
A new genre
Piano concerto Op. 54, in Am (1841-1845)
I — Fantasia
II - Intermezzo: an instrumental Lied
III — Finale: The "symphonic" movement
Chapter 4: Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Virtuosity and cantabile in 'one basket'
Another cantabile
The piano concerto — historical background and conception of the genre
Concerto No. 1 in E flat major (1855)
I - The cantabile as the emotional center
II - All is cantabile
III - the triangle
IV - Finale — the festive song

Concerto No. 2 in A major (1857)
Chapter 5: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Stylistic characteristics and the location of the piano concerti in Brahms's repertoire
Brahms, Clara and Joachim
Premiere of the Piano concerto No. 1 in Dm, Op. 15 (1861)
Background and sources
I - A narrative drama of Lyricism and appassionato
II - Portrait of praying
III - A Hungarian Dance
Piano concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1882)
Lyricism and appassionato in the second Brahms's concerto
I - Sonata-Form
II - Scherzo of struggle and desire
III - An emotional climax in a song
IV - Relaxation in a dance
Singing controls the structure
Two aspects of one idea in two poems by Brahms
Brahms and the Lied
Op. 105, No. 2
Op. 86, No. 6
"The circle closed"

Chapter 6: Conclusion: The findings of the research: the cantabile as an aesthetic resolution of a conflict



Dr. Atara Isaacson
Department of Music
Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan 52900 Israel

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