Modal Prolongational Structure in Selected Sacred Choral Compositions by Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams
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While some composers at the beginning of the twentieth century drifted away from tonal hierarchical structures, Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams sought ways of integrating tonal ideas with new materials. By analyzing the music of Holst and Vaughan Williams using a technique expressly designed for the analysis of tonal musical structure—Schenkerian Analysis—this study looks at ways in which the composers combined old and new techniques and what that means with regards to our understanding of their music. To do this, the current study focuses on the sacred choral repertory because it can form a stylistic bridge between nineteenth-century tonality and the composers’ more experimental works. This repertory also provides an opportunity for interpreting text-music connections that help us understand the music at a deeper level. In order to establish groundwork for the analytical methodology, I begin the study with background information on the composers and previous research done on their music, after which I summarize their most pertinent stylistic features (including their use of diatonic modes and other pitch collections, their harmonic, melodic, and contrapuntal techniques, and their formal structures). I then discuss how an analyst can determine prolongational structure in Holst’s and Vaughan Williams’s music by establishing the tonic or pitch-class center, establishing the context for harmonic and melodic stability, and following predictable formal patterns. Finally, I apply the analytical methodology in detail to Vaughan Williams’s Benedicite and Holst’s The Hymn of Jesus, two substantial single-movement choral works that represent both the conservative (Benedicite) and experimental (The Hymn of Jesus) sides of the composers’ style. I also compare the analyses with the texts and show how the composers portrayed religious ideas, even at deeper levels of the prolongational structure. The modified Schenkerian analytical techniques used in these analyses show that even though Holst and Vaughan Williams used a number of twentieth-century compositional techniques, their prolongational structures still follow expected patterns and closely resemble traditional structures.