Author: Brasky, Jill Tovah
Title: 'Far Have I Flown': Chromatic Dominants and Functional Transformations in Schoenberg's Gurrelieder
Institution: University of Buffalo
Completed: May 2005
The climactic moment at the end of "Tauben von Gurre!" (also known as the Song of the Wood Dove), from the last section of Part I of Gurrelieder, is built on what appears to be a half-diminished seventh-chord with a root of scale-step moving repeatedly and powerfully to tonic triads. Traditional theory would likely account for this half-diminished sonority as an alteration or embellishment of a more familiar functional chord. The chord’s pivotal role in the harmonic language of the Song of the Wood Dove, however, demands that this harmony be treated as a chord in its own right.
This study develops a systematic grammar for this half-diminished seventh-chord (identified throughout as a half-diminished seventh chord with a nominal root of scale-step 4), considering both its origins (as both an embellishing sonority and an independent chord) in earlier music, and its various functional contexts. Two broad categories emerge: stand-alone chords, where the half-diminished sonority is the only chord that comes between a pair of tonic triads; and embellishing chords, where the half-diminished seventh-chord is adjacent to at least one another functional dominant and the group of them together resolve to tonic. The study culminates in a close examination of the Song of the Wood Dove--the song that motivated this project--with special attention to the local-level and large-scale roles played by the half-diminished sonority.