Liszt's "Bagatelle Without Tonality:" Analytical Perspectives
The present text is an analysis of Franz Liszt's Bagatelle without tonality, the first self-proclaimed
atonal piece ever written. The main analytical techniques used as a starting
point are derived from 'paradigmatic' and 'reductive' analysis, both applied freely according
to the features of the piece. A review of Robert Morgan's analysis of the piece in
his 1976 article 'Dissonant Prolongation' prompts an alternative reduction. The role and
limitations of this analytical technique, the potential for creating misleading analogies
with tonal music, and its general adequateness for the piece are discussed.
Also visited is the technique of tonal composition that eighteenth- and nineteenth
centuries theorists coined as Mehrdeutigkeit-'multiple meaning'-because of David C.
Berry's thesis that the Bagatelle is a continuous outgrowth of it. With an independent
review of this technique, and of the theory around it, Berry's thesis is refuted as a possible technical account of the piece.
Finally, by a reflection on the possible compositional process in the creation of the
Bagatelle, I maintain the thesis that Liszt had no precompositional design of any kind:
on the one hand, abandoning tonality in this piece meant abandoning the relationship
between tonic and dominant altogether, not replacing them with something else; on the
other, there is no sign of a general preconceived planning on the part of Liszt in the image of what twentieth-century atonality would experiment with, or of what many of the
relationships revealed by analysis could suggest.
Fulfilling the composition requirements of the Ph.D. degree in Composition and Theory,
my Concerto for Violin and Orchestra follows the essay from page 60 on.
Advisor:Eric Moe; Mary Lewis; Mathew Rosenblum; Amy Williams; Dennis Looney
School:University of Pittsburgh
School Location:USA - Pennsylvania
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:09/28/2006