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Wilkinson, Edward Nigel

Theory and Practice: An Interpretation of Serialism in the Music of Luigi Dallapiccola

Ph.D. Royal Holloway College, University of London, 1983

Revered by many, performed by relatively few, the music of Luigi Dallapiccola has received only modest analytic attention. This thesis is concerned principally with the serial works which form the major part of his mature output. With reference to all the relevant pieces, it provides a detailed account of the basic compositional techniques, and relates these, where appropriate, to Dallapiccola's models in the music of the Second Viennese School. Although many of his works will be shown to be strictly conceived in serial terms, they retain an Italianate quality, which the composer described as "bellezza". The central chapters of this study grapple with this somewhat subjective issue, using objective, often quantitative analytic techniques. In particular, they endeavour to show that the composer retained an exceptionally rigorous harmonic control, even in complex linear and contrapuntal passages. His widespread use of derived material is also discussed at length. Using set-theoretic results developed in an introductory chapter, an elegant classification of all the derived trichord rows is possible.

Shorter chapters on structure and rhythm show that Dallapiccola dabbled in applying numerical patterns to both parameters, but the examples which do occur fall far short of the "total serialism" favoured by some composers in the post-Second World War period. The composer regarded the opera Ulisse as his major achievement. Appropriately, this thesis culminates in a complete tabular analysis of the opera, which should provide a valuable starting-point for subsequent research.

For maximum clarity, the text uses standard mathematical terminology. A detailed understanding of certain passages (though not their results) requires a basic familiarity with set theory, equivalence relationships and matrices.