Theory 202 - tristan paper

Theory 202 - tristan paper - Matthew Gray Tristan Paper...

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Matthew Gray Tristan Paper Theory 202 Isolde’s Transfiguration While listening to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde one can immediately notice how Wagner is somehow able to compose seamless flowing phrases that morph into each other. Furthermore, Wagner has the innate ability to compose long stretches of music without giving the listener a sense of tonic, or a sense of what tonality we are in. Adding these two traits of Wagner’s music together causes listeners to feel as though the music leaves them with a feeling of suspense. In most cases this suspense is drawn out and is usually resolved in an unexpected way or not at all as we sometimes find throughout the opera. In many ways this style of phrase writing translates into a sort of microcosm of how Wagner writes larger stretches of music. As you can see by the reduced example below the Liebestod in and of itself does not follow a traditional Aria form. Quick form chart The form of Isolde’s Transfiguration at the end of the opera does not seem at first glance to follow any sort of traditional form yet on the smaller level we can find many instances of periods and sentences. An example of this can be found in the opening eight bars of the transfiguration where we see a traditional 2+2+4 sentence that has been creatively modified with non-traditional harmony in a classical sense. I call these phrases a sentence because it follows the traditional model of “basic idea → repetition → extension” that we
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have learned in previous theory classes such as TH102 taught by Dr. Temperley, yet unlike traditional sentences where the harmony stays within one tonal area, perhaps moving to the dominant key, Wagner’s sentence structure sounds as if it is always leading somewhere else other than where we started. Below you can see these eight bars with roman numerals and phrases marked in to show the sentence structure. All musical examples contained within this paper are taken from the Schirmer edition score of Tristan und Isolde . Beginning 8 bars
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This feeling of always progressing or “transforming” in a sense is expanded into a larger idea when we look at the form of the entire selection. The final few minutes of the opera begin in one place and end in a completely different area. We begin just as the love duet began in Act II; in A flat major. However, unlike the love duet which stays in A flat for the duration, Wagner follows his smaller phrase model and moves from the key of A flat major to the key of B major. The section preceding the shift to B major seems very unstable, with no real cadences in A flat to aurally notify listeners that we are in the key of A flat. Instead, Wagner chooses to use this section as a sort of lead in for the B major
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Theory 202 - tristan paper - Matthew Gray Tristan Paper...

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