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Dairianathan, Eugene
Tan, Leonard Yuh Chaur
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Nikolai Medtner (1880 – 1953) was a Russian composer of the early twentieth century. Beginning his career at a time at the turn of the century when musical practices began to diverge, Medtner also wrote a book titled The Muse and the Fashion: being a defence of the foundations of the Art of Music (1935) as a response to what he felt was the abandonment of tonal harmony. These writings, which philosophizes on musical aesthetics and compositional principles, reveal aspects of an inner world of a composer.

Medtner’s second Forgotten Melodies Cycle Op. 39 presents one of Medtner’s most significant contributions to piano literature. The synthesis of the miniature and sonata genre reveals intersections with his music compositions which draw on associations to literature, contemporary events, and his religious and artistic creed.

Available scholarship in English is sparse. Much of available literature focuses on musical analysis of selected individual movements, which has not yielded connections with cyclic connections. This presents issues in understanding this Op. 39 Forgotten Melodies cycle as a whole. Even though the Op. 39 cycle hints at a plethora of extramusical references, existing understanding of Op. 39 is limited, and at times conflicted. In addition, scholarship has identified that Medtner’s writings in The Muse and the Fashion to be intimately related to the Forgotten Melodies cycles, which presents a uniquely symbiotic avenue to understand Medtner’s compositional strategies and the Op. 39 cycle. Briefly, The Muse and the Fashion has not been considered as a lens to read the Op. 39 cycle.

To address the gaps in the musical analysis and extramusical inquiry in Op. 39, this study begins by tracing the underlying ideas in The Muse and the Fashion. Guided by these underlying ideas, musical aspects of harmonic support, form and thematic ideas are examined for each individual movement. Cyclical connections in terms of texture, thematic ideas and motivic connections will also be examined. Stimulation from the analysis of the musical features, and aided by relevant allusions, will lead the investigations into the extramusical.

The findings are then compared and contrasted with Medtner’s views on compositional strategies in The Muse and the Fashion, and Medtner’s artistic creed. Finally, this study addresses the challenges of researching Medtner’s compositions by evaluating them through his own assertions of compositional strategies. The study of the Op. 39 through The Muse and the Fashion also reveals a Medtnerian dimension alluding to the Visual Arts in terms of compositional strategies, which could help understand the problematics of his style.
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Appears in Collections:Master of Arts

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