UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Thematic transformation and motivic unity in the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams Gray, Laura Jean


Vaughan Williams composed nine symphonies of diverse character and style and each of fine quality. Because of the span of Vaughan Williams's symphonic career over many years (1903-1958) and because of the newly active musical climate in England during his years of symphonic production, these works are of considerable historical as well as analytical interest. There is much literature of differing kinds - analytical, social, historical, and critical - devoted to the works, mainly by leading English writers over the decades. Notwithstanding the bulk and quality of discussion, there is a noticeable lack of extensive analysis of the kind which seeks to elucidate and interpret the manner in which symphonic conflicts central to each of the symphonies is expressed. The lacuna of comprehensive analysis has retarded progress in the understanding not only of Vaughan Williams's symphonic works, but also toward a fuller understanding of developments in the twentieth-century English symphony, in relation to which these works are of such seminal importance. For this reason, it is the intention of this study to present an isolated examination of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor. The investigation will be divided into two parts, the first, analytical and the second, an historical interpretation of the evidence presented in part I. The study begins with an expository analysis of the thematic, formal and tonal structures, and harmonic and contrapuntal techniques peculiar to the fourth symphony. The analysis is intended to lay a groundwork for the more particular considerations which follow. The purpose of the second chapter is to bring to light the central issues, features, and conflicts of the symphony: structurally pervasive motivic ideas, thematic transformations and interrelationships, and structurally significant dissonances. The second part of the thesis includes an investigation of particular influences on the fourth symphony evident from the analysis of part I and through external documentation. Chapter IV, which concludes part II, is subdivided into three parts: 1) a comparison between No. 4 and Vaughan Williams's other symphonies in order to determine its significance within the composer's total symphonic output; 2) a study of Vaughan Williams's participation in English symphonic developments of the twentieth century and the significance of the fourth regarding the musical atmosphere in England at the time; and 3) an examination of Vaughan Williams's general contribution to, and the particular historical place of No. 4 within, nineteenth- and twentieth-century lines of symphonic development. The analysis reveals that the Symphony No. 4 has a progressive network of thematic transformations and an underlying pattern of manifestations of the symphony's initial motivic dissonance. The consideration of the fourth symphony's historical importance discloses the role of the work as a catalyst upon Vaughan Williams's symphonic oeuvre toward a more sophisticated approach to harmonic, motivic, thematic and formal structure, the effects of which were witnessed immediately in the Symphony No. 5. The thesis exposes Vaughan Williams's contribution to conservative structural innovation in the twentieth-century symphony and his strongly individual stylistic interpretation of traditional symphonic thought.

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