Dissertation Index

Author: Whitelaw, Bryan A.

Title: Franz Liszt's Sonata Narratives: Large-Scale Forms at the Weimar Court

Institution: Queen's University Belfast

Begun: October 2017

Completed: July 2021


This thesis critically examines the concept of narrative in music by analysing the large-scale, sonata-form instrumental works of Franz Liszt, composed during his tenure as Hofkapellmeister im außerordentlichen Dienst between the years of 1848 to 1861 at the Weimar Court Theatre. Drawing primary attention to the theoretical models of the new Formenlehre, including William Caplin’s theory of formal functions, James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s Sonata Theory, and their nineteenth-century complements in Schmalfeldt, Horton, and Vande Moortele, the analyses co-inhabit both empirical and hermeneutic approaches, endorsing the multi-variate methodologies of musicology alongside the literary models of narratology and transtextuality.

Following a conceptual introduction to narrative theory and detailed review of narrative’s adoption in musicology, the thesis builds a theoretical model for the analysis of large-scale forms in nineteenth-century instrumental music. Key case studies comprise the most important of Liszt’s sonata-form works from this period, including Après une lecture du Dante (Fantasia quasi Sonata) and the Piano Sonata in B Minor; the symphonic poems Les Préludes, Orpheus, Prometheus, and Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo; and “Mephistopheles” from Eine Faust-Symphonie; each of which are analysed here under the rubric of the new Formenlehre for the first time, demonstrating the suitability of Liszt’s inclusion in the field, and endorsing the sonata principle as the foundational structure of his large-scale forms. No less than thirty compositions from Liszt’s Weimar years provide supplementary analytical insights, among further examples from lesser-studied nineteenth-century composers. The thesis arrives at a conceptual framework for the analysis of large-scale sonata forms as narrative processes, guided by the frames of transtextuality, and motivated by an aesthetic dialogue between composer and listener.

Keywords: Franz Liszt, Sonata Theory, Narrative, Formal Functions, Transtextuality, Programme Music, Harmony


1. Literary Models and Narrative Theory
2. The Nature of Musical Narrative
3. Towards a Lisztian Formenlehre
4. Transtextual Readings
5. The Lament and Triumph of Torquato Tasso



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