School of Music, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.
Topic theory was originally proposed as a method of analysing diatonic eighteenth-century music; twentieth-century non-tonal and twelve-tone compositions have largely lain untouched. Monelle’s concept of formulating a historical trace answers the criticisms made of topic theory—its superficial and axiomatic style—by grounding each topic through an investigation into its historical representations. Analyses within this thesis of texted works by Mahler, Schoenberg and Webern create a Viennese topical sphere from which multivalent networks of signification form. Subsequently, links emerge between these networks and the unique political and cultural situation in Vienna, with works of literature, Freud’s psychoanalytical theories, and cultural alienation. Through rhetorical devices, such as irony or satire, their meanings become duplicitous, overturning their traditional associations, in particular, the waltz’s relationship with its predecessor, the Ländler, which reflects the psychoanalytic concept of the double and the primal trauma.
In addition, each chapter includes an analysis of a contemporaneous operetta in order to demonstrate that the topics found in the art music of the period were common outside of the intellectual “circle” and perhaps understood by the common theatre audiences. The thesis concludes with works by Webern, demonstrating that despite his revolutionary aphoristic style, the underlying narratives parallel the yearning for nature from Mahler’s generation and critique the conventional portrayal of their feeling of bourgeois alienation and acceptance of society’s constraints rather than their forced derivation from them. By merging the psychological expression of Schoenberg with the cultural representation of Mahler, he combined the radical and the revolutionary and made them conventional. Ultimately, this thesis shows that not only are there topics in the music of twentieth-century Viennese composers, a premise already beginning to be investigated by others, but further that the topics are signifiers of the culture in which they are situated—they are quintessentially Viennese.