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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The piano genre of the nineteenth-century polonaise Siemens, Barbara M.


The polonaise is a genre whose history reaches back over four hundred years. In recent times, the style has come to be characterized by the rhythm found in many nineteenth-century examples in the piano literature. However, while this rhythm is a typical feature in most Romantic samples, the term "typical" becomes problematic when viewing polonaises written in nineteenth-century Poland, as well as in eighteenth-century Germany. In these cases, the above pattern is given a less prominent role and is replaced by other rhythmic features. This dissimilarity between the polonaises of various periods calls into question the validity of labelling a primary characteristic unilaterally "typical." Is it possible to make one statement regarding the basic rhythmic characteristics of a polonaise, or is it more accurate to create definitions which vary according to historical context? The answer lies in an examination of the rhythmic characteristics as they occur, and not as they are thought to occur, throughout the history of the genre. This study compiles the rhythmic characteristics of the polonaise genre derived from the analysis of pieces spanning the early eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. The selected works represent eleven composers of both Polish and non- Polish lineage and form a body of ninety examples. From these polonaises, five basic rhythmic categories are developed. They are used to ascertain the rhythmic relationships among pieces from the various periods and determine the most prominent features in each. The information revealed in the survey leads to the conclusion that separate definitions must be used when speaking of the genre as it existed between 1700 and 1850. Three main definitions are suggested in the final chapter. The first includes the eighteenth-century polonaise as developed by German composers, the second is representative of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Polish composers, and the third encompasses the polonaises of such nineteenth-century composers as Field, Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin. It is hoped that a more comprehensive understanding of the polonaise genre and its history will be achieved when each of the definitions is considered.

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