By Emily Foster, Piano Performance
Advisor: Fabio Menchetti
Abstract: In his Nocturne, Op. 33, composed in 1959, American composer Samuel Barber straddles two musical eras. The nocturne, or "night piece," was one of the most popular solo piano genres of the nineteenth century, championed by Romantic composer Frederic Chopin. By the twentieth century, however, the nocturne had largely fallen out of vogue, with composers venturing into newer genres and exploring increasingly dissonant harmonies. Barber, with characteristic individuality, wrote a nocturne that was neither entirely in the Romantic style of Chopin, nor in the modern style of his twentieth century contemporaries. Dedicated to John Field, an Irish composer credited with writing the first nocturne, but nevertheless showing overwhelming influence from Chopin, Barber's Nocturne blends Romantic and twentieth century styles to create a graceful, expressive, and haunting work. Using Barber's Nocturne, I will discuss how Barber synthesizes Romantic and contemporary compositional techniques, creating a constant tension between old and new, tonality and atonality, and consonance and dissonance. I will analyze numerous aspects of Nocturne's composition, including melody, harmony, structure, and mood, and demonstrate these characteristics on the piano. Ultimately, I will discuss how Barber innovated the nocturne genre while still remaining true to the foundations laid by Chopin, integrating two of history's most distinctive musical styles with an ease and grace that remains unsurpassed to this day.