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Title:Counterpoint and linearity as manifested in the music of George Gershwin
Author(s):Adams, Jacob
Director of Research:Magee, Jeffrey S.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Magee, Jeffrey S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Heiles, William H.; Mitchell, Rachel; Tsitsaros, Christos
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Gershwin, George
linearity: sequence
thematic development
Abstract:The music of George Gershwin has remained ensconced in concert programs ever since the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. His music possesses everything that popular music has, namely memorable, catchy tunes and a clear-cut sense of direction. Although a tonal composer, many of his harmonies are complex sonorities that elude any attempt at a functional analysis. Many of his works possess a wide array of themes that are often superimposed and combined in sophisticated and subtle ways. While many of his works may initially appear as nearly formless, there are in fact many techniques of thematic unity and development at work. The unifying element in Gershwin's music is counterpoint and an ever-present sense of linearity, duality, and opposition. Harmonic sequences are often not generated by conventional, pre-determined progressions, but rather by the linear motion of each individual note, as though it were its own independent voice. Instead of setting tunes against standard accompaniments, Gershwin often layers a distinctive countermelody above or below the primary melody, in addition to imbuing the accompanying patterns with a sense of line in themselves. Instead of employing root-position chords obsessively, as was common in popular music of the day, Gershwin creates coloristic chord successions derived primarily from stepwise (linear) motion. Although Gershwin's music has not undergone nearly as much scholarly analysis as that of the older masters, a substantial literature nonetheless exists, notably the writings of Stephen Gilbert and Allen Forte. Stephen Gilbert in particular has written several illuminating works dealing with counterpoint in Gershwin's music. It is my primary goal in this paper to uncover specific contrapuntal, linear, and sequential patterns that Gershwin employed, as as discovering these structural elements in imperative in truly understanding Gershwin's compositional process. These elements also give further evidence that counterpoint and linearity remain at the heart of his musical thinking and procedures, whether they are generating harmonic progressions, layering multiple melodic lines, developing thematic material, or creating smooth, linear chord progressions.
Issue Date:2013-08-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Jacob Adams
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-08-22
Date Deposited:2013-08

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