A Cathedral in the Forest: Reinterpreting Barber's Sonata for Piano as Motivic Narrative
Marshall, Richard Sorensen
Doctor of Musical Arts
Samuel Barber’s Op. 26 Sonata for Piano is his landmark achievement for solo piano, considered a staple of the modern repertoire. It has drawn much attention both from pianists and scholars alike for its daunting technical requirements and musical rewards. The piece exhibits many paradoxical traits that have generated comment, chief among them the serial qualities of the first and third movements respectively, where tone-rows exist in textures clearly not based on conventions of the Second Viennese School. None of the analyses I have seen aptly captures the underlying nature of the paradoxical serialism. This study will take a different tack in interpretation. It will examine the behaviors and structures of the piece not through the lens of conventional theoretical approaches, but through a lens based on the inner logic of the piece itself. It will examine how musical relationships may be formed outside a tonal or serial framework. It will look at motivic elements as engaging in a musical conflict for hegemony between the tonal and the atonal. It will put forth a comprehensive analysis of all four movements and frame a new narrative way to view the piece. It will draw connections between Barber’s compositional process and the nature and structure of the piece itself. Each chapter will analyze one of the four movements, mining each in linear fashion. I will narrate from a three-dimensional view that draws on the piece’s future and past, in an effort to construct essentially this sonata’s theory of everything.