Franz Liszt and the Sonata Narrative: The Lament and Triumph of Torquato Tasso

Bryan Whitelaw

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


During his tenure as Kapellmeister of the Weimar Court Theatre, ca. 1848–61, Franz Liszt produced a large volume of intricately constructed works with literary or poetic references. In his orchestral works in particular, the composer adopted a variety of formal schemata and semiotic allusions which venture beyond the distinction between absolute and programmatic music. As the emergence of a pluralist musicology continues to observe a growing openness to interrogating the ideology of absolute music, and to developing theoretical and analytical approaches that embrace hermeneutics as a valid scholarly approach, narrative analysis appears to provide a promising perspective.
Pluralistic assessments are well-suited to a composer like Liszt, whose instinctive programmaticism lends itself particularly well to an interdisciplinary approach. Under the rubric of ‘musical narrativity’, this paper provides a case-study examination of Liszt’s symphonic poem Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo (1849–54). The analysis draws on elements of manuscript studies and intertextuality, before contextualizing them within the concerns of nineteenth-century sonata form: assessing thematic syntax, structural tonality and cadential closure, alongside multi-movement form. This paper concludes with an analytical overview of the work, showing that a literary approach to formal analysis may reveal the complex structural practices of nineteenth-century compositions as narratively charged.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2019
Event2019 Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association - University of Manchester/Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201913 Sept 2019


Conference2019 Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association
Abbreviated titleRMA 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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