Maximalism and the Nineteenth-Century Orchestral Style

”In a successful academic career, the dissertation is eventually going to be the worst piece of scholarship you’ve ever produced.” This classic piece of advice already feels right, in some respects, but I am nevertheless proud to report that I successfully defended my dissertation yesterday afternoon. Only some minor revisions now lie ahead. Here is the abstract:

The historical development of a musical style (“stylistic development”) reflects the artistic dispositions and circumstances (“artistry”) of the composers who participate in it. This dissertation investigates the theory that similar kinds of artistry can encourage similar modes of stylistic development no matter the style, taking as a case study the pattern of gradual stylistic intensification (“maximalism”) found in nineteenth-century orchestral music.

The analysis of a representative set of seventeen orchestral works composed between 1803 and 1899 demonstrates the musical characteristics that provide the repertory with a common stylistic identity as well as other characteristics that its composers (Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Schumann, Glinka, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Dvořák, Mahler, and Elgar) intensified and augmented through a maximalist process of stylistic development. The subsequent analysis of primary-source documents relating to each of the twelve composers reveals the influence of a shared artistry, elements of which included the artistic dispositions of historicism and Romanticism and the artistic circumstances of the concert hall and the music publishing industry.

Finally, the consideration of psychological and economic theories of human behavior helps to illuminate how certain elements of that artistry are likely to have promoted the maximalist development of the style, leading to the broader conclusion that a composer engaged in non-price competition is likely to develop his or her musical style in a maximalist manner when his or her artistry also comprises a disposition that encourages social comparison or a circumstance in which habituated listeners value music having an increased arousal potential.