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Ellis, Sam

Evolution and Retrospection in the Chamber Music of Arthur Bliss

M.Phil. University of Wales, Bangor, 2006
(mup208@bangor.ac.uk)

In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, some contemporaries of Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) hoped that, with his prodigious talents, he would leave an indelible mark on British music. Now, though, most scholars concur that his high-spirited early music was stimulated by post-Armistice feelings of adventure and recklessness, but that his youthful waywardness quickly gave way to a more serious, abstract approach. In this thesis, stylistic anomalies – particularly prevalent in Bliss's chamber works – are analysed in a number of case studies.

The first two chapters of the thesis focus on specific musical elements for closer investigation: the harmonic language of Bliss’s pre-First World War string quartet is considered in relation to contemporaneous works of other composers, before the timbral characteristics of his early interwar works are examined. The central chapters take a broader analytical approach. Bliss's two quintets are discussed at length in the third chapter; Music for Strings in the fourth; and his two mature string quartets in the fifth. The final two chapters include a review of Bliss scholarship and a short reappraisal of the stylistic evolution (and retrospection) apparent in Bliss's music. A list of the composer's major compositions is also included.

These stylistic analyses are supported by detailed biographical commentary, some of which is based on examination of historical sources (most of them preserved at the Bliss Archive, Cambridge University Library).