Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://hdl.handle.net/2440/81913
Type: Thesis
Title: Best since Barber : contextualising the piano sonatas of Robert Muczynski.
Author: Harrold, Leigh Robert
Issue Date: 2013
School/Discipline: Elder Conservatorium of Music
Abstract: The American composer Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) is a somewhat under-represented figure in twentieth-century art music. Despite the fact that he has left a substantial body of engaging and well-crafted music for which scores are readily available, there is still a lack of serious scholarship regarding his compositional output, and a paucity of recordings of his works. If one cannot blame the quality of the music itself for its lack of dissemination, it is likely that the cause lies with Muczynski’s own reticence towards self-promotion. The range and number of works available to pianists to perform can often be overwhelming, and the most aggressively marketed works will reach the public consciousness first – not always correlating with the works that are perhaps most artistically worthy of attention. Muczynski’s three piano sonatas, between them, capture every facet of his art. From the eccentric, Soviet-influenced violence of the first, to the masterful and supervirtuosic second, through to the enigmatic and utterly individualistic third sonata, the three works lie on a continuum that shows Muczynski’s journey towards an increasingly unique and original voice. In an internet age where anyone can publicise an opinion without qualification or substantiation, viewing a composers’ output objectively becomes increasingly difficult. So if we cannot rely on currently available information to enhance our understanding of the performance practices of these sonatas, we should actually use other music as our guide. Firstly, the gaps in the continuum of Muczynski’s sonatas can be filled by his own intervening sets of piano works: pieces like Diversions, Fables, the Suite, the Toccata, A Summer Journal and Seven show Muczynski’s experiments with pianistic texture and technique, workshopping ideas that would come to fruition in the sonatas themselves. Secondly, we can see what Muczynski absorbed, consciously and subconsciously, from the great American composers that came before him: Ives, Copland and Barber all provided masterful piano sonatas that serve as a model in some way for Muczynski’s own. Finally, we can place this continuum of ‘Americana’ in the much greater context of twentieth-century piano sonatas in general and find works from other nations that influence Muczynksi’s style and that have been influenced by him. From the mosaic-like structure of Tippett’s Second Sonata through to the driving Argentinian rhythms of Ginastera’s Second Sonata, Muczynski’s sonatas share characteristics with many other masterworks in varying proportions. As we continue to compare and contrast Muczynski’s sonatas with the other great sonatas of the twentieth-century, we can gradually build up a Muczynski ‘galaxy’ – a worldview that has Muczynski’s sonatas at the centre and other sonatas in ‘orbits’ around them at a distance that roughly correlates with the affinities they share. What this ultimately shows us is that while sonatas by Charles Ives and Carl Vine may lie in closer orbits than sonatas by, say, Rachmaninov or Boulez, no composer lives in a vacuum and Muczynksi’s sonatas are ‘post-modern’ in the truest sense – showing influences from, and providing links between even the most stylistically disparate composers. Learning and recording the Muczynski sonatas with all this in mind helps us understand them better – certain piano figurations and motifs become more recognisable, the hand-shapes one needs to adopt become more familiar, the textures one strives for can be pictured in the mind’s eye before even being played on the keyboard. In this way, Muczynksi’s sonatas are given credence and meaning against an established historical background. They are contextualised.
Advisor: Lockett, David Robert
Bodman Rae, Charles
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, Elder Conservatorium of Music, 2013
Keywords: Muczynski, Robert; piano; American; music; sonata; Ives; Barber; Copland
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text.
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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