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Outside the circus: psychology, modernity and narrativity in Sibelius's Fourth Symphony

Hartley, Jennie (2016) Outside the circus: psychology, modernity and narrativity in Sibelius's Fourth Symphony. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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Written at a time when Sibelius himself was in crisis, the Fourth Symphony occupies a place not only as the numerical midpoint of seven symphonies, but also as a stylistic watershed, attracting strongly-worded reviews and speculation about its meaning from contemporaneous critics. This thesis considers the work’s cultural, musical and personal context from such starting points as Sibelius’s status as a national icon, his claim that this was his “psychological symphony”, and conflicting criticisms of a Third Symphony that was “out of step with the times” but a Fourth that was “disconcertingly new”. All three areas hint at possible reasons for its initial unpopularity: the piece is stripped of any anticipated patriotism, instead presenting a dark and personal face, with its so-called “cubist” sparseness, obsession with the tritone and economy of form making uncomfortable listening for many at the time. Despite Sibelius’s claim that it had no programme, the Fourth Symphony quite obviously has elements of the evocative stillness and cinematic changes found in his tone poems. The crux of this study is a narrative interpretation, one that marries the music’s unspoken drama – to paraphrase Abbate – with its essentially abstract nature by examining the use of instrumental “voices” in the foreground. Such an avoidance of a direct conferment of “meaning” again broaches the symphony’s unpopularity. Having “nothing of the circus” could ultimately count against it: if it had to be interpreted, let its subject be clear, and if not, let it thrill the audience. The phrase “profound logic” sheds light on the motivation behind the work, the very opposite of that “circus”: it is not a series of entertaining acts, but the logical pursuit of the consequences of its earliest ideas. Later works are briefly examined in this light, returning to the concept of this as a watershed work.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > Music (York)
Depositing User: Mrs Jennie Hartley
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2017 13:06
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2017 13:06
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/16276

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