Unity Through Variety: Exploring the Cyclic Principle in Selected Works for Piano

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The term ‘cyclic’ is a fairly recent addition to the modern musical lexicon. Coined by Vincent d’Indy in the early twentieth century, it is applied (often retroactively) to compositions exhibiting a recurring theme or structural device. Excluding genres that by design necessitate reiteration, such as sonata-allegro, rondo, and variation forms, this may involve any number of processes ranging from large-scale formal repetition to cyclic integration on a micro level. As a result, the concept of cyclicism is better understood within the context of a larger organizing principle, one that extends beyond the confines of a singular form or technique.

Among the more common procedures is cyclic form, which features the return of a primary theme in a later section or movement of a work.  Originating with the Renaissance cyclic mass, the form fell largely out of fashion in the Baroque and Classical eras, residing outside the musical mainstream until the instrumental works of Beethoven.  In the nineteenth century, composers expanded the boundaries of cyclical construction by treating melodic material to an array of complex metamorphoses.  Commonly referred to as thematic transformation, the “new” melody assumes an independent character apart from its parent theme, and may be assigned a programmatic or dramatic role (e.g, the idée fixe in Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique).  A hybrid of these methods is the use of reiterative motives  — melodic, harmonic, and/or rhythmic cells, often originating from the same source material — that provide thematic and structural cohesion.  Together, these processes form a principle of cyclic unity found in a wide variety of genres and styles, a testament to its influence on the repertory both past and present.

Over the course of three recitals, this performance dissertation explored how the cyclic principle is applied in selected solo, chamber, and concerto works from Ludwig van Beethoven to John Corigliano.  All three recitals were held in Gildenhorn Recital Hall, part of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland—College Park, MD.   Live compact disc recordings of all three recitals are housed in the Digital Repository at the University of Maryland (DRUM).



NOTICE: Recordings accompanying this record are available only to University of Maryland College Park faculty, staff, and students and cannot be reproduced, copied, distributed or performed publicly by any means without prior permission of the copyright holder.