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Tonality as Drama

Closure and Interruption in Four Twentieth-Century American Operas

Edward D. Latham

Publication Year: 2008

Whether you are “in the business,” or you are a music theorist, musicologist, or simply an opera fan—read on! This is an analytical monograph by a Schenkerian music theorist, but it is also written by one performer and enthusiast for another. Tonality as Drama draws on the fields of dramaturgy, music theory, and historical musicology to answer a fundamental question regarding twentieth-century music: why does the use of tonality persist in opera, even after it has been abandoned in other genres? Combining the analytical approaches of the leading music and dramatic theorists of the twentieth century—Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) and Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938)—Edward D. Latham reveals insights into works by Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and Aaron Copland that are relevant to analysts, opera directors, and performers alike. Tonality as Drama is not a textbook—rather, it is an innovative analytical study meant to inspire changes in the study and performance of tonal opera. By applying Schenker’s tonal analytical technique to a small segment (early twentieth-century American opera) of a repertoire typically regarded as non-tonal (modern opera), Latham reveals a strategic use of tonality in that repertoire as a means of amplifying or undercutting the success or failure of dramatic characters. This use of “strategic tonality” is present in many of the grand operas and song cycles of the nineteenth century as well, suggesting avenues for future research.

Published by: University of North Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. x-xiv

I am a singer. My parents are both singers. I married a singer. My three children are all singers. Thus, although for a number of reasons I had to cut the sections explicitly devoted to performance implications from the four analytical chapters in this book, I approached the analyses with a singer’s perspective in mind. It is my fond hope that they will eventually prove ...

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pp. xv-xvi

General thanks are due to the dozens of people who have read my work and encouraged me along this arduous journey. Special thanks first to my family—my wife Cara, my children Elizabeth, Marie, and John, and my parents for believing in me. Thanks also to my teachers, especially Peter Warsaw, Janet Schmalfeldt, Patrick McCreless and Allen Forte. Thanks to ...

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1. Tonality as Drama: An Introduction

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pp. 1-18

Is tonality, as defined by harmonic and linear progression, inherently dramatic? It should be clear from its title where the present book and its author stand on that issue. Though Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker’s declaration that “in music the drama of the fundamental structure [das Drama des Ursatzes] is the main event” was later cited by would-be detractors as ...

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2. Dramatic Closure: The Stanislavsky System and the Attainment of Character Objectives

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pp. 19-53

A system of dramatic analysis that is both multi-leveled and richly detailed can be found in the work of the Russian actor, director and teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863–1938). Stanislavsky was born to wealthy parents on January 5, 1863. Baptized as Konstantin Sergeievich Alekseiev, he adopted the stage surname Stanislavsky in 1884 in order to conceal from ...

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3. Tonal Closure: A Schenkerian Approach to Tonal Drama

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pp. 54-68

Two forms of expansion—“vertical” and “horizontal”—exemplify the adaptation of Schenkerian theory. Many theorists inspired by Schenker have sought to expand the influence of his theory of structural levels by applying it to musical works that lie outside the boundaries of the chronological canon he established (Bach to Brahms, or roughly 1700–1900): a horizontal ...

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4. The Completed Background LineWith Open-Ended Coda: Scott Joplin’s “Grand Opera” Treemonisha (1911)

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pp. 69-94

From the turn of the century to World War I, most American composers were self-consciously trying to emulate (or rival) their European counterparts. Composers such as Walter Damrosch, desirous of acceptance by the European cultural elite, adopted many of the models established by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European composers. This trend is exemplified in the ...

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5. The Multi-Movement Anstieg or Initial Ascent: George Gershwin’s “Folk Opera” Porgy and Bess (1935)

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pp. 95-138

During the period from the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II, a more characteristically American voice began to emerge in the operatic genre. The development of more innovative libretti (e.g., Gertrude Stein’s text for Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts, 1928), the addition of jazz elements to the harmonic lexicon (e.g., in George Antheil’s ...

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6. The Multi-Movement Initial Arpeggiation: Kurt Weill’s “Broadway Opera” Street Scene (1947)

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pp. 139-164

The Nazi persecution of European Jews brought a wave of emigrants to America’s shores in the 1930s and 1940s. Among the composers that fled Europe to escape the Nazis, Kurt Weill, Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), and Ernst Krenek (1900–1991) all made important contributions to the operatic genre after relocating to the United States. While Krenek chose to continue ...

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7. The Prolonged Permanent Interruption: Aaron Copland’s “Operatic Tone Poem ”The Tender Land (1954)

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pp. 165-192

“In the United States opera has held an uncertain and precarious position but is now meeting an unprecedented and revolutionary tide of awareness Although this frank and optimistic assessment was made more recently, it also accurately captures the rising stock of American opera in the 1950s. American composers took a new interest in opera after World War II, both ...


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pp. 193-210


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pp. 211-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413717
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412499

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 26 tables, 40 figures
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 621699410
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tonality as Drama

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Subject Headings

  • Gershwin, George, 1898-1937. Porgy and Bess.
  • Operas -- Analysis, appreciation.
  • Opera -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Weill, Kurt, 1900-1950. Street scene.
  • Joplin, Scott, 1868-1917. Treemonisha.
  • Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990. Tender land.
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