What does it mean to end? In the first decade of the twentieth century, tonality as a monolithic carrier of musical meaning was reaching its end. As musical expression stepped beyond the bounds of tonality, Gabriel Fauré continued to pursue a personal tonal idiom. His Nocturnes are testament to this, as direct musical expressions (to paraphrase Kœchlin) that interact dialectically with both the past and the composer’s present. This paper sheds light on the idiosyncratic way that Fauré reacted to the major upheavals of the early twentieth century, through analysis of his Nocturne No. 10. First, I describe the ways that Fauré adapts and extends nineteenth-century compositional norms. Secondly, I analyze moments in the piece that push beyond the realm of common-practice tonality with transformational methods from Cohn (2012), Bass (2001), and Douthett and Steinbach (1998). Thirdly, I place these findings in an hermeneutic perspective, relating the ending of the piece to the twilight of tonality and Fauré’s search for new expressive resources. The most startling example of these new resources is found in the final dominant of the piece. A whole-tone scale is harmonized with parallel major/minor seventh chords to extend and reinforce the dominant. This moment of crystalline beauty leads us to the proper tonic and stands as testament to Fauré’s integration of the new compositional procedures of his students Kœchlin and Ravel.
2.C.1Sessione - French Music (I): Fauré and Saint-Saëns
Laurence Willis is a PhD candidate in music theory at McGill University under the supervision of Professor Jon Wild. His dissertation treats form in nineteenth-century character pieces for piano, including Brahms and Reger. His other current research projects include tonality in recent microtonal music, approaches to electronics in G. F. Haas’s string quartets, and rhetoric in Schumann’s fugues. Laurence has presented his research at the Society for Music Theory annual meeting and other international conferences. He recently won a teaching award for post-tonal theory. He previously studied at the University of Surrey where he won the Shoana M. Mackay Dissertation Prize for his work on Debussy’s Prelude No. 4.
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