Franz Liszt's Heroic Narratives: Towards a Lisztian Formenlehre

Bryan Whitelaw

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


As the so-called ‘New Formenlehre’ attempts to bridge the gap between 18th-century models and 19th-century application, a comprehensive study of Liszt’s engagement with the principles of sonata form is overdue. Save for a selective number of analyses, recent attempts at the formal analysis of 19th-century repertoires have tended to disregard Liszt’s output.

One reason for this neglect is that Liszt’s works frequently resist standard sonata-form models, as a result of which they are often explained in terms of their programmatic content. While it is important to acknowledge the programmaticism of some of Liszt’s music, and its poetic and literary inspiration, its relationship with formal models demands more attention than it has hitherto received.

This paper explores a variety of these features from Liszt’s symphonic poems, Tasso: Lamento e Triofono, Prometheus, and Orpheus, to show how the formal construction of these works is dependent on their heroic inspirations in a manner of subjectivity that recalls middle-period Beethoven. By adopting elements of Caplin’s Classical Form (1998) and Hepokoski and Darcy’s Sonata Theory (2006) as a theoretical base, I show how Liszt’s narrative sonata forms adopt a common formal process across a number of works. This calls for a hybridised theoretical discourse beyond the models of the Viennese-classical, and ultimately, attempts to weave a narrative thread through an otherwise complex set of formal practices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2019
EventSotonMAC 2019: Annual Conference of the Society for Music Analysis - University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Jul 201931 Jul 2019


ConferenceSotonMAC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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