Dissertation Index

Author: Svistoonoff, Katherine A.

Title: Cosmopolitanism in Two Twentieth-Century Piano Sonatas

Institution: University of Houston

Begun: January 2011

Completed: January 2011


Semiotic analysis enables an interpreter to understand cultural meanings behind compositional choices and discover the links that enable composers to associate themselves with other writers historically. This analysis of Piano Sonata, BB 88 (Sz. 80) by Béla Bartók and Piano Sonata, Op. 26 by Samuel Barber utilizes musical topic and narrative theories to establish a multi-dimensional understanding of cultural, historical, and stylistic contexts that provide a direct basis from which to assess meaning. The meaning behind the music surfaces by the manner in which each work references topics. Both virtuosic sonatas, the works integrate traditional forms (high style) with folk tunes (low style). An overarching commonality between the two works emerges from the process, one that links them not only to each other, but also to common practice established during the Classical Period.

Topical relationships among movements contribute to an overarching idea, a mega-trope, which establishes a universal sense of direction to more complex multi-topical works. In fact, the area of greatest congruence between the Bartók and Barber sonatas surfaces at this level. The mega-trope cosmopolitanism reflects the pluralities of philosophies, cultures, and generations. These attributes emerge in the music by the manner in which the composers musically allude to cultural and temporal characteristics such as melody and form.

Throughout Bartók’s Piano Sonata, BB 88 (Sz. 80) and Barber’s Piano Sonata, Op 26, cosmopolitanism appears in the integration of the pastoral and military topics, as described by Raymond Monelle. The container theory, as discussed by cognitive theorists Lakoff and Johnson, complements semiotic assertions by establishing the concept of self (man) as the starting point for the potential of movement. Additionally, both sonatas incorporate three conflicting narratives that originate in literature: Man versus Self, Man versus Society, and Man versus God. Archetypes laid forth by Leonard Ratner, Kofi Agawu, Byron Almén, Eero Tarasti, and others also appear as the basis from which further assertions derive.

Commonalities in the sonatas of Bartók and Barber occur at many levels in a semiotic interpretation, most notably at the mega-trope level. References to characteristics of the cultural and temporal plurality in cosmopolitanism aid in substantiating interpretive choices. Thus, performers and analysts acquire the capacity to reveal and interpret layers of association behind contextual implications.

Keywords: Semiotics, Bartók, Barber, Sonata, Piano, Analysis, Container Theory, Cosmopolitanism, Trope


Table of Contents

Signature page ii
Abstract iv
Acknowledgements vi
Table of Contents vii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 - Béla Bartók: Piano Sonata, Sz.80 8
Chapter 2 - Samuel Barber: Piano Sonata, Op. 26 12
Chapter 3 - Man vs. Society
External Reference: Military Topic 19
External Reference: Pastoral Folk 26
Chapter 4 - Man vs. God
External Reference: Pastoral Religious and Pastoral Nature 34
Chapter 5 - Man vs. Self
Cognitive Dissonance and Container Theory 48
Conclusion 61
Bibliography 64


Katherine Svistoonoff
1839 Kipling Street
Houston, TX 77098

Cell: 713.628.0397

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