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The Hymn as a Musical Topic in the Age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

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Scholars frequently use the term “hymn-like†to describe passages of instrumental music but the precise meaning of the term remains elusive. This dissertation examines, through the lens of topic theory, the characteristics, origins, and communicative potential of such passages in the music of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. I define the hymn topic as a broad expressive category of music that is simple, singable, and solemn. This topic derives from styles associated with a set of interrelated genres—congregational songs from different traditions, homophonic passages in Catholic polyphony, revolutionary hymns, and operatic scenes of worship—translated into new contexts, presumably with the intention of conveying solemnity and devotion. ', 'Chapter one provides a brief illustration, based on reception history, of the expressive power and signifying mechanisms of the hymn topic. In chapter two, I review the theoretical basis of the theory of musical topics and explain the emergence of the hymn topic in relation to the culture of domestic devotion and the aesthetics of “noble simplicity and calm grandeur†(Winckelmann 1755). Chapter three examines the characteristics of hymn topic in depth by isolating musical parameters. In so doing, I identify several variants of the topic, such as the “graceful hymnâ€â€”chordal music in triple meter reminiscent of sacred dances of operatic priestesses—or “spirited†hymns—infused with the dotted rhythms typical of revolutionary music. Chapter four examines the relationship between the I–V-vi progression and the hymn topic (McKee 2007) through corpus study, and applies the results to offer a hermeneutic reading of Beethoven’s Fidelio. The final chapter provides an overview of compositional procedures involving the hymn topic, including typical tropes (Hatten 1994) and conventionalized expressive paradigms. Case studies from Dussek, Gyrowetz, Haydn, Mozart, and Wranitzky incorporate the hymn topic into music analysis and examine its interactions with other elements of musical structure to produce historically sensitive interpretations.

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  • 10/08/2019
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