First Advisor

Bellman, Jonathan, 1957-

Document Type


Date Created



College of Performing and Visual Arts, Music, Music Student Work


Chorale as a genre originated in sixteenth-century Lutheran worship music, but

chorales and chorale style did not really enter the vocabulary of secular concert music as

a musical topic until the eighteenth century, as a semiotic code for ideas and feelings

associated with chorales. Although the frequency of use as well as the range of contexts

and implied meanings of chorale topic increased from the eighteenth to the nineteenth

centuries, the scholarship of topical analysis concerning chorales has been vague and

incomplete. Chorales by definition are congregational, identifying and expressing the

sentiments of a group, and their most common associations are of purity, archaism, and

of course spirituality.

When chorales are used topically, the range of their expressive perspectives

broadens considerably, and varies widely depending on the context. Chorale topic can

express a religious or nationalistic “We,” a monumental and impersonal “It,” or an

intimate and personal “I.” Within the category of “I” expressions, chorale topic can

express the irony and despair of the “I” separated from the “We,” or on the other hand,

the comfort, guidance, or transcendence of the separated “I” seeking and finding its

community or communion. Haydn was one of the first composers to regularly use

chorale as a topic in slow movements of his symphonies and string quartets. Nineteenth

century composers—Beethoven, Schubert, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann,

and Brahms among others—provide examples of chorale topic of every expressive type

and in many genres, including art song, oratorio, piano sonata, duo sonata, string quartet,

symphony, opera, and piano nocturne. Because of their resonance with actual religious

practice, chorales and chorale topic remain perennially current, inherently accessible, and

easily blended with other styles and topics. Understanding the range of meanings that

chorale topic can carry is thus essential to a solid stylistic understanding and hermeneutic

competence with music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Abstract Format



Chorale; Music history; Topic theory


208 pages

Local Identifiers



Spring 2015 Graduate Dean's Citation for Outstanding Thesis, Dissertation, and Capstone

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Copyright is held by author.