Franz Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor: Context, Analysis and Hermeneutics

  • Bryan Whitelaw

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMaster of Philosophy


Franz Liszt has all too often been discarded as the virtuosic showman, despite the fact that his orchestral works have often gained great praise and attracted scholarly engagement. However, one also finds striking development of formal design and tonal harmony in many of the works for his principal composition medium, the piano. This thesis seeks to explore the genesis of Liszt’s magnum opus for the instrument, the Sonata in B Minor, to uncover the time-frame in which the work was composed and from where its inspiration was derived.
Considering the historical analyses placed upon the work that deal with structural design, as it pertains to the paradigm of Classical sonata form, I wish to utilise a practical application of James A. Hepokoski and Warren Darcy’s Sonata Theory in order to survey the Sonata in B Minor’s landscape in a new light. In particular, I offer new perspectives on the validity of the double-function form, insight into the rhetorical layout of a rotational discourse, and propose a nuanced analysis befitting of this striking work.
Finally, I shall explore the implications of a hermeneutical reading of the Sonata to engage with the discursive meanings contained within the work as a whole. The composer’s literary influences and the evidence uncovered within the body of this thesis help to support a possible narrative that may have been a significant influence upon Liszt’s composition of this great work.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorAidan Thomson (Supervisor) & Yo Tomita (Supervisor)


  • Franz Liszt
  • Liszt
  • Piano
  • Musicology
  • Sonata Theory
  • Analysis
  • Context
  • Hermeneutics
  • Typology
  • Semiotics
  • nineteenth century

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