Text Painting through Neo-Riemannian Transformation and Rhythmic Manipulation in the Vocal Music of Benjamin Britten
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The music of Benjamin Britten is both inspiring and intriguing: inspiring, because his music can move the listener; intriguing, because his use of triadic harmonies and rhythmic settings seems at once free, flexible, and spontaneous yet sensible and appropriate in representing the mood of the text. Although many of Britten’s harmonies are traditional in nature, e.g. major and minor triads, it is difficult, almost impossible or cumbersome at best, to assign Roman numerals to his harmonies because his manner of chord progression does not always conform to functional theory. In my analyses, I will demonstrate that the logic behind Britten's harmonic progressions can be explained through two types of neo-Riemannian transformation theories, namely Richard Cohn's Four Hexatonic Systems and Leonhard Euler's Tonnetz. In the case of the "Spinning Scene" from The Rape of Lucretia, Hindemith’s "Table of Chord-Groups" will be used to explain the presence of harmonies that are not part of the four hexatonic systems. Throughout, Schenkerian graphs will be presented to illustrate how the underlying structure and overall harmonic design of each piece work in conjunction with the emotion of the text. In addition, I will show that his rhythmic manipulations, when coupled with the meaning behind his chord progression, vividly paint the emotion of the text, as well as the state of mind of the poet or the character in an opera.