Franz Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor: Thematic Typology and Hermeneutic Narrative

Bryan Whitelaw

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Liszt’s piano music is often characterised by an unusual treatment of form, tonality and harmony. In this paper, I explore the implications of these elements beyond the theoretical in his magnum opus for the instrument, the Sonata in B Minor.

I shall first consider the work’s inner narrative by way of a thematic typology. The motivic contents of the Sonata each appear to have an earlier genesis, and through the lens of Lawrence Kramer’s hermeneutic windows, I aim to show how these citational inclusions are the means by which one bridges the divide between purely musical and extra-musical readings of the work.

Specifically, I explore figures whose characteristic use in other works by Liszt mean that they bring with them semiotic or symbolic associations, thus making their use in the Sonata at least partly allusive. In particular, I shall draw attention to themes that appear in works which are associated with characters in Goethe’s Faust.

I shall conclude by comparing elements found in both the Sonata in B Minor and Liszt’s Goethe-inspired Faust Symphony, and use this comparison to propose a hermeneutical reading of the work in Faustian terms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2017


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