Dissertation Index

Author: Palmer, James K N

Title: Form-Functional and Topical Sources of Humour in Classical Instrumental Music

Institution: University of British Columbia

Begun: September 2009

Completed: August 2015


Most of us can recall chuckling, or even laughing out loud, at a humorous musical passage and perhaps recalling how much that experience increased our enjoyment of the music. This study focuses on humour in the instrumental works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven: composers who have been singled out by contemporary and modern scholars for their ingenuity and mastery of the Classical style. In the most general sense, musical humour arises when composers play with established conventions of musical discourse by writing something incongruous according to the stylistic context.

Chapter 1 demonstrates how historical critics understood the role of contrast in examples of musical humour and wit. It then surveys many recent music-theoretical discussions of musical humour, before briefly introducing how elements of contrast, “valence shifts,” and “opposition” are involved in musical humour from the Classical period. This study’s analytical and theoretical approach to musical humour draws on recent studies of musical humour, form, and communication in the Classical style, as well as concepts from recent linguistic theories of humour.

Chapter 2 introduces the two primary strategies Classical instrumental composers employed to create musical humour: “opposition” and “excess.” Chapters 3 and 4 discuss a wide range of musical examples to explore how composers deployed formal functions and musical topics to produce humour. These discussions provide a sense of the wide range of effects that fall under the umbrellas of opposition and excess.

Chapter 5 concludes by briefly examining some performance applications of this study and suggesting some further potential sources of musical humour.

Keywords: humor, form, function, topics, excess, opposition, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, semantic


1 Humour in Classical Instrumental Music: Introduction and Literature Review 1
1.1 Scholarship on Humour in Classical Instrumental Music 4
1.2 Theories of Humour 22
1.3 Three Methodological Points 29

2 Theoretical Framework 33
2.1 Some Preliminary Remarks 33
2.2 Theoretical Model 34
2.3 Deployments of Formal Functions and Topics 38
2.4 Opposition 43
2.5 Excess 49

3 Humorous Opposition 58
3.1 Introduction to Opposition 58
3.2 Examples of Humorous Opposition 65
3.3 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 60 \"Il distratto,\" sixth movement 65
3.4 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 67, third movement: a counterexample 72
3.5 Beethoven\'s String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1, third movement 75
3.6 Mozart\'s Serenade in D major, K. 250, first movement 80
3.7 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 60 \"Il distratto,\" third movement 87
3.8 Michael Haydn\'s Symphony in D major, Perger 13, third movement 99
3.9 Haydn\'s String Quartet Op. 33 No. 3 \"The Bird,\" fourth movement 107
3.10 Mozart\'s Serenade in D major, K. 250, third movement 112
3.11 Conclusion 118

4 Excess 120
4.1 Introduction to Excess 120
4.2 Narrative Excess 127
4.3 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 98, fourth movement 130
4.4 Haydn\'s String Quartet Op. 33 No. 3 \"The Bird,\" fourth movement 140
4.5 Beethoven\'s Bagatelle Op. 33 No. 5 144
4.6 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 93, second movement 150
4.7 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 94 \"Surprise,\" second movement 165
4.8 Beethoven\'s Bagatelle Op. 33 No. 2 170
4.9 Unprepared Excess 181
4.10 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 66, third movement 182
4.11 Haydn\'s Symphony No. 60 \"Il distratto,\" first movement 188
4.12 Haydn\'s String Quartet Op. 33 No. 2 \"The Joke,\" fourth movement 193
4.13 Conclusion 200

5 Conclusion 205
5.1 Other Potential Sources of Musical Humour 205
5.2 Performing Humour 208
5.3 A Brief Recapitulation 217

Bibliography 220

Discography 233


James Palmer
University of British Columbia

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