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Type: Thesis
Title: ‘Variations on a Theme’ as a Means of Musical Storytelling: Portfolio of Compositions and Exegesis
Author: Lang, David John
Issue Date: 2019
School/Discipline: Elder Conservatorium of Music
Abstract: This submission for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide creatively explores the storytelling potential of variation form in instrumental music for concert performance. It consists of a portfolio of seven original compositions and an exegesis. The musical form of ‘variations on a theme’ has been used for centuries in works of great dramatic power, yet composers of narrative program music have generally avoided the form, preferring less repetitive, more heterogeneous structures. This project takes insights from narrative theory (literary and musical) to explore an original approach to musical storytelling within the confines of variation form. It is shown how the limitations of variation form can be used to advantage in certain musical narratives by providing structural clarity, singular focus and teleological momentum. The key aspects of variation form explored here are its monothematicism and its cellular structure. The inherent linearity of variation form is further enhanced in several works by the use of process-driven variations (inspired by minimalist techniques), in which each variation systematically builds upon the previous variation rather than independently referring back to the theme. This linear approach to form is adapted to simple narrative structures of growth and gradual change in Teklanika Twilight (a passacaglia conveying the crescendo of a river), The Imaginary Waltz (portraying awkward attempts to dance that gradually fall into step) and Yukon Sunrise (growing light illustrated with a simple formula of expansion). Two wind orchestra works demonstrate contrasting roles for the theme: it acts as the subject in the ‘hero’s quest’ narrative of Going on a Lion Hunt, and as the hidden object or goal in Over the hills and far away. The conflict between a theme and its variations is paralleled with a struggle between order and transgression in Cocoon. The major work of the portfolio is a 38-minute piano solo, Catcher Variations, which uses a combination of all these approaches.
Advisor: Koehne, Graeme
Bodman Rae, Charles
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, Elder Conservatorium of Music, 2018
Keywords: Variation form
musical narrative
program music
Description: Part A: Portfolio of Compositions -- Part B: Recordings [currently unavailable] -- Part C: Exegesis
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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