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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A tonal analysis of the First String Quartet, opus 37, by Karol Szymanowski Cadrin, Paul


In 1917, at the peak of the most productive period of his creative life, the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) undertook his First String Quartet in C, opus 37. Of the four movements originally planned, three were published in 1925. These three movements reflect important directions in the evolution of the composer's style: from a youthful fervor toward German late romanticism (First Movement), through Szymanowski’s discovery of French impressionism (Second Movement), to his most daring experiment with polytonality (Third Movement). The complexity of this work, particularly of its tonal-harmonic language, raises questions which this dissertation proposes to answer. In order to do this, a three-tiered approach is used. At a first level, the surface of the work in all its details is represented as a network of lines according to stated criteria of continuity. At a second level, the structurally decisive outer-voices are extracted and the verticalities providing the harmonic framework for linear motions identified. Finally, at a third level, the tonal-harmonic structure is represented through multilevelled Roman numeral designations, on the one hand; and, on the other, broad directions of motion encompassing major sections and entire movements are portrayed in outer-voice frameworks. Following a discussion of these methodological stages, each movement is analyzed in detail. A summary of significant principles of polytonality introduces a discussion of Szymanowski's application of these in the Third Movement. As a broad commentary on the composer's style and technique in the First Quartet, the final chapter examines particular procedures manifest in all three movements. Voice-leading graphs for the entire Quartet are appended.

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