Chromatic Parentheses: An Exploration of Their Structural and Narrative Implications in Select Songs from Richard Strauss's "Brentano Lieder," op. 68

Sarah Sarver, Florida State University

Chromatic digressions in tonal music never fail to pique our analytical interests, especially when such tangential excursions deviate from what we believe to be normative. Coming to terms with such "purple patches" can be quite slippery, especially when motivated by multifarious departures from musical expectation. The purpose of the present study is to examine certain kinds of chromatic digressions that I call chromatic parentheses.

Chromatic parentheses are analogous to parentheses found in prose -- they are asides that temporarily interrupt an otherwise continuous idea. The interpolated musical material can create a strongly disorienting aural effect. This disturbance arises when the interjected material seems out of place given its musical context. I will discuss two specific kinds of musical parentheses that occur in Richard Strauss's Brentano Lieder, op. 68. The first features a disrupting passage of complex dissonances that occurs within the context of consonant triadic sonorities. The second kind of parenthesis is created when musical expectation is thwarted -- specifically the expectation of closure.

In my talk, I will explore the structural and narrative implications of these chromatic parentheses. In doing so, I will describe how various chromatic parentheses interact with their surrounding musical material, focusing both on voice leading and the relative strength of the structural rupture. The narrative aspect of each parenthesis is shaped by its relationship to the song's text. In certain instances, chromatic parentheses signal narrative asides. Other chromatic parentheses indicate changes in poetic imagery, an extravagance used to communicate a trope in the meaning of the text, or a narrative commentary on the poem.