Pictorial and Literary Evocations in the Programmatic Music of Liszt and Debussy
University of Kansas
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Abstract Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was extraordinary both as a virtuoso performer and an innovative composer of works in a variety of genres. As a modernist icon bridging the turn of the century, Claude Debussy (1862–1918) had a vast influence on his contemporaries and later generations of composers. Both the piano and society underwent substantial developments and changes during the lives of both Liszt and Debussy. The changes allowed composers to explore new realms of piano sounds. The exploration that Liszt and Debussy sought in their compositions brought a new aesthetic of approaching music and piano playing to audiences. Program music had been written by many composers for the keyboard from the Baroque era until today. Program music as a term refers instrumental music that involves descriptive or narrative effects created through tone painting, musical figurations, and other techniques. Compared to character pieces, which have a similar goal, program music tends to be applied to longer works that feature more complex descriptive or narrative ideas. Pictorial and literary inspirations are two essential non-musical elements in program music and are thus crucial to explore. By analyzing selected programmatic works of Liszt and Debussy, I emphasize how they used and developed pictorial and literary evocations in their program music and how they utilized the piano as a device to provide the sound world of visual and written programmatic sources. Additionally, I discuss and analyze the specific pianistic vocabulary and tools found in the music of Liszt and Debussy. The research includes two main parts. The first chapter contains three sections: an introduction of Liszt and Debussy, the developments to the instrument, and the social changes during these two composers’ lifetime, and the certain pictorial and literary sources that they evoked in their program music. The second chapter is also divided into three sections: a discussion and analysis of how Liszt and Debussy use the piano as a device to reflect certain pictorial and literary sources; a discussion of the new realm of sound and the piano techniques that they employed; and in the last section, the above materials will be reiterated briefly to reinforce the substance and importance of these works by Liszt and Debussy.
- Dissertations 
- Music Dissertations and Theses 
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