Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet No. 4 (1989) is a passionate essay, full of fervor and anguish expressed through an eloquent and highly refined style. Essential to this style are the counterpoised textures of chorale and canon. Not only does the coherence of the Quartet's expansive formal design rest largely on the effective deployment of chorale and canon, but these devices are the very engines that drive Schnittke's musical argument. Perhaps the most stunning event of the Fourth Quartet occurs in the finale. In the closing moments of this long work, Schnittke replaces the dissonant and dynamic fury of the fortissimo climax with an astonishing chorale, a highly chromatic melody harmonized exclusively with root position triads. The chorale is the product of an accumulation of objects-melodic motives, privileged intervals, and homorhythms-unveiled in the first movement. The chorale melody itself is introduced in the opening measures of the Quartet in the form of a cello declamation. This declamation serves as a reservoir for the harmonic resources of the quartet and for symmetrical structures that pervade the work. Schnittke applies canonic imitation to thematic material, originally stated in chorale style, to intensify its character and suggest a sense of motion and unease. Schnittke counterpoises the relative stability of the homorhythms with polyphony to animate the Quartet via an evolving intensification of the basic motivic material. The intensification process involves steadily increasing textural complexity subsuming as many as eight voices energized by polyrhythms. Canon and chorale also participate in a number of imaginative symmetrical structures, some apparent on the surface of the music, others hidden deeper within the texture. Schnittke's habit of weaving quotations from diverse styles throughout a work is replaced in the Fourth Quartet by a more subtle polystylistic technique. Stylistic pluralism is accomplished instead by allusion. Emblems such as chorale, canon, ritornello procedures, and diatonic writing suggest the styles of the common practice period, while microtones, dense chromatic clusters, and twelve-pitch melodies establish the work's post-tonal identity. In this way, Schnittke achieves a highly sophisticated form of polystylism and establishes a precarious balance between seemingly incongruous qualities.



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Committee Chair

David Smyth



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