UBC Theses and Dissertations
Pentachordal configurations in two late works by Leoš Janáček Easey, Jonathan Norman
Modern research on the work of Leoš Janáček is often focused on elements that are explored in Janáček’s own theoretical writing: techniques of text-setting, speech rhythm, organicism, and narration. This scholarly preponderance is important, because it brings Janáček’s own work in music theory to the fore, but it has also become prohibitive because Janáček’s theories have drawn scholars’ attention away from more focused, detailed analysis of his music. This study represents a refocusing of the analytical lens. In it I examine the pitch materials of two of Janáček’s works from the 1920s: the first movement of String Quartet no. 1 and an aria from Z Mrtveho Domu (From the House of the Dead). My examinations show that Janáček, in addition to being in the vanguard of developments in text-setting and speech rhythm, was also innovative in his deployment of pitch collections and his manipulation of standard tonal procedures. Indeed, my examination aims to show that Janáček’s use of pitch collections itself represents a skillful manipulation of tonality. By isolating and reflecting on the properties of particular intervals and groups of intervals, Janáček is able to craft his own unique brand of tonality that eschews many of the characteristics and hierarchies of standard practice. In the quartet we see Janáček developing motivic material based on a pentachord formed by the motives of the opening bars. This pentachord and its intervallic subsets have interesting properties which Janáček then illustrates through the motives’ deployment in the movement. The tonal allusions in the piece are all drawn from triadic relationships contained in the pentachord and its derivations. In the opera aria Janáček utilizes pentatonicism to establish a juxtaposition of semitones and perfect fifths – the only two intervals that can generate the totality of twelve-tone pitch space. Because both of these intervals generate pitch spaces which utilize all of the twelve pitch classes, they share a unique isomorphism which emerges from Janáček’s deployment of pentatonic pitch collections and which is explored here from both analytical and theoretical perspectives.
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