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Studies in Music with Text$
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David Lewin

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195182088

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195182088.001.0001

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Well-Made Play and Theater of Passion; The Teleology of Functional Tonality and the Self-Propagation of Transformational Atonality

(p.212) (p.213) Chapter Twelve Tristan
Studies in Music with Text

David Lewin

Oxford University Press

Francis Fergusson asserts that the “single purpose” of Richard Wagner's well-made play Tristan und Isolde is “to hold and excite the audience,” the better to render it receptive to the rhythms and flows of the “real” dramaturgy, which follows “the action of passion.” For him, the play is thus a device to abet the drama of passion, rather than a partner of that drama in a dialectic process. This chapter disagrees with Fergusson's assertion and argues that there is instead an essential dialectic tension between the two species of dramaturgy in the work. It finds that this dialectic tension specifically enacts and is enacted by a musical dialectic that persists throughout the drama, a dialectic between the traditional teleology of tonality, on the one hand, and, on the other, the propensity of abstract intervallic structuring (“atonality”) to saturate its environs through self-propagation.

Keywords:   Francis Fergusson, Richard Wagner, teleology, tonality, atonality, passion, self-propagation, Tristan und Isolde, drama, dialectic tension

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