Dissertation Index

Author: James, Emma R.

Title: Telling Tales: Narrative Semiotics in the Music of Béla Bartók

Institution: Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Begun: August 2009

Completed: August 2016


Existing analytical approaches to Bartók’s music typically emphasize either tonal or atonal techniques, often with limited hermeneutic interpretation. This dissertation applies a narrative-semiotic methodology to Bartók’s music in order to contextualize analytical pluralism and offer evidence-based hermeneutic readings. Within Nattiez\'s tripartition, neutral-level analysis examines paradigmatic relationships between musical signs through Peircean semiotics. The esthesic level, which attends to syntagmatic relationships between musical signs, is fashioned into three types of narrative: generative, dialogic, and dramatic. At a deeper level of interpretation, these narratives may also be read as extended metaphors—narraphors—and as meta-narratives.

The dissertation is organized according to the basic narrative levels, with discussions of narraphor and meta-narrative as appropriate. Chapter 1 discusses the existing analytical literature on Bartók, introduces music semiotics and musical narrative, and culminates in a schematic of the narrative-semiotic methodology. Chapter 2 presents two case studies of generative narrative. Chapter 3 examines the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion within the context of dialogic narrative. Chapter 4 presents two case studies in dramatic narrative, exploring the relationship between text and music in the Cantata profana and between gesture and music in The Miraculous Mandarin. Chapter 5 presents a comprehensive analysis of dramatic narrative in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.

Keywords: Bartók, Narrative, Semiotics, Dialogic Form, Drama, Peirce, Nattiez


1. (Re)telling Bartók\'s Music: A Path to Narrative Semiotics
2. Generative Narrative: Music Alone
3. Dialogic Narrative: Bartók\'s \"Sonata\"
4. Case Studies in Dramatic Narrative
5. Dramatic Narrative: A Reflection on Narrativity



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