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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interactions of conventional and nonconventional tonal determinants in the string quartets of Béla Bartók Morrison, Charles Douglas


Although there exists substantial literature on Béla Bartók's music, few sources address his tonal language in a penetrating, analytical way. Analyses often lack precision in demonstrating adaptations of conventional principles of tonal orientation in the often nontraditional contexts of Bartók's music, and are generally inconclusive in explaining the particulars of interaction between conventional and nonconventional tonal determinants. The present study seeks to demonstrate adaptations and interactions of specific conventional and nonconventional tonal determinants, taking these shortcomings into account. In Chapter I, a brief but critical survey of approaches to tonality in Bartók is followed by a redefinition of tonality, which embodies both conventional and nonconventional determinants of centric orientation, many of the latter being analogues of the former. Progression and prolongation are cited as two fundamental processes by which tonal orientation is effected. Because Bartók's string quartets span his compositional career, reflecting global changes in his musical language, they are particularly convenient for study. Chapter II introduces four categories of progression relevant to Bartók's quartets: conventionally functional progressions, nonconventional tonicizing progressions, fifth progressions, and linear progressions. Each is further subdivided, with discussion of the theoretical principles of classification, examination of the existing literature where relevant, and illustration of the element of' progression in question, usually by excerpt from the quartets. Chapter III takes Heinrich Schenker's theory of prolongation as a departure point for the study of nonconventional but analogous procedures in Bartók's quartets. Prolongation over foreground, mid-level, and large-scale spans is studied, and subcategories of mid-level prolongation in particular are discussed in relation to commentary by Wallace Berry, Craig Ayrey, and Arnold Whittall on this vital but problematic concept. Each prolongational determinant is exemplified in passages from the quartets. The focus of Chapter IV is the final movement of Bartók's sixth quartet, the analysis of which illuminates details of interaction between conventional and nonconventional tonal determinants—such interaction being crucial in understanding Bartók's tonality as a unified system of functionally interrelated principles of centric orientation and structural coherence. Chapter V summarizes the findings of the analysis in Chapters II-IV.

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