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Harmony and Tonality in the Late Piano Music of Franz Liszt – Functional and Transformational Analytical Perspectives

Chapkanov, B (2022). Harmony and Tonality in the Late Piano Music of Franz Liszt – Functional and Transformational Analytical Perspectives. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This dissertation proposes a method for harmonic analysis of Franz Liszt’s late piano music, which is based on neo-Riemannian theory and on traditional Riemannian functional analysis. Based on the presence and strength of functional harmonic procedures in the works under discussion, their analytical investigations are separated into two parts. Part I focuses on ten pieces composed between 1874 and 1885, in which an overarching tonality and functional chord relations are still prevailing over non-functional chromaticism. A hybrid methodology is proposed for analysing such works – one that combines the strengths of functional analysis with the ability of mainstream neo-Riemannian theory to account for parsimonious transformations between chromatically related chords. A fuller picture of Liszt’s sophisticated harmonic language is achieved as a result, accounting equally well for the more functionally diatonic and the more chromatic features of it.

The term double syntax, derived from Richard Cohn, is used for Liszt’s harmony, which combines diatonic functionality with non-functional chromaticism. Based on the different ways, in which the two types of harmonic syntax complement each other in this music four species of it are conceptualised. These are called functionally framed double syntax, simultaneous double syntax, successive double syntax and structurally differentiated double syntax. Each of these shows in its own way Liszt’s music as a complex blend between the conventions of his past and his more original, idiosyncratic treatments of harmony. These features of his style have been considered a most important part of his compositional individuality to conceptualise and discuss at present. The broader purpose of part I is to offer some categories for discussing music with double-syntactic harmony and to put forward the neo-Riemannian Tonnetz in combination with functional chord labelling as a basis for analysing Liszt and other composers of the ‘long’ nineteenth century.

Part II focuses solely on Liszt’s more chromatic treatments of harmony in some of his most avant-garde late piano pieces, and offers analyses of over 20 works composed between 1875 and 1885. Neo-Riemannian theory is employed as the sole basis for discussing such highly chromatic repertoires. The ability of the Tonnetz to visualise chromatic transformations between a wide variety of triads and seventh chords is exploited to a certain extreme, with the main purpose of this analytical endeavour being to stretch the boundaries of what we can show in such geometrical pitch space with the most common visual tool of xviii this theory. Only in the context of Liszt’s extensive uses of the augmented triad in some of his late pieces another visual tool – the Cube Dance – is used for visualising harmonic relationships. The strive to prove that in comparison to traditional modes of analysis the visual apparatus of neo-Riemannian theory can more easily and clearly reveal surface-level chromatic chord relations has been the main motivator for limiting the analytical inquiry to chromaticism and to this particular method.

Without the grand ambition to show Liszt’s late piano music in a completely new light, this study has been led by the aim to provide a wide picture of this composer’s highly individualistic treatment of chromaticism and to put forward a comparatively simple neo-Riemannian methodology as a viable alternative to the more traditional theories for analysing similar repertoires.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Chapkanov thesis 2022.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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