An interdisciplinary study of Robert Browning and Richard Wagner

Date

2017-09-19

Authors

Hall, Alison Jane

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Abstract

My doctoral dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of music and literature and stems from my M.A. thesis (U.N.B., 1992) which examined musical form and dramatic theme in three of Shakespeare's comedies. As the survey in Chapter 1 of the present dissertation shows, the general trend in interdisciplinary studies moves from a coverage of wide ranges of music and literature, as in Calvin S. Brown's study of 1948, to an investigation of one or two artists, represented by Thomas S. Grey's recent study of Wagner's musical prose (1995). This dissertation examines two 19th-century artists who display particular interests in the relationship between music and literature, and who practise and develop both arts to a high degree. Robert Browning's and Richard Wagner's aesthetic, poetic, and musical theories provide an account of their artistic growth and their realisation that music is the key to their poetic art and their own self-awareness. Their mature works allow their readers or audiences to experience art to a deeper level and provide ideal models for interdisciplinary study. The introduction to Chapter 1 traces Browning's early interest in the relationship of the arts and his empathy for the young poet in Pauline. Just as that speaker uses the mysterious powers of song to guide his thoughts and artistic queries, Browning begins to understand and use the technical, stylistic, and aesthetic qualities of music to develop his poetic art. Wagner's career also follows a path from self-doubt to self-awareness, and his rediscovery of the orchestra's power in Tristan parallels Browning's realisation of music's force in “Saul.” Chapter 2 summarises and compares Browning's and Wagner's theories and shows how their artistic explorations lead to the writing of The Ring and the Book and the Ring cycle, and their interest in using a variety of textures to control their motivic techniques. Chapters 3 and 4 consist of a close textual examination of two major motives in Browning's The Ring and the Book (in Books 1 and 7) and two major leitmotives in Wagner's Siegfried, and looks particularly at formal, technical, and stylistic similarities and differences. In this respect, my study follows in the spirit of Calvin S. Brown's comparative study. My methodology also borrows from Robert Wallace's comparison of Jane Austen and Mozart (1983), and his investigation was influential in choosing and limiting specific points of analysis. My dissertation examines musical and dramatic details in the areas immediately surrounding Wagner's leitmotives, and the poetic lines which precede and follow Browning's motives; it expands current critical perspectives of motivic practice, and moves beyond previous studies which trace technical details of the motif but do not identify the subtle changes inform and meaning which allow the motif to be effective. My project concentrates on two areas common to the two arts—technical and formal aspects, and stylistic features. In particular, I focus on the artists' creative strategies and their use of motivic techniques to enhance characterisation or to advance dramatic meaning. Further, it reveals their interest in the interaction of the audience or listener, and highlights artistic trends in large-scale works of the 19th-century. My dissertation concludes by pointing to new directions that might be taken by further comparative studies, and the comparison of other interdisciplinary techniques used by poets and musicians to enhance dramatic and narrative goals.

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Keywords

Browning, Robert, Wagner, Richard

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