Louis Vierne and the Evolution of His Modal Consciousness
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University of Washington Abstract Louis Vierne and the Evolution of His Modal Consciousness Jonathan Bezdegian Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Dr. Carole Terry Music During my years of organ study I have always been perplexed by the harmonic language of Louis Vierne (1870-1937), particularly in his 24 Pièces de Fantaisie. After reading a breadth of literature on the organ music of France after the French Revolution, the Paris Conservatoire, the progression of organ construction, the subsequent development of symphonic organ composition and improvisation, organ scholars have not discussed how to approach this music in terms of analysis, nor created a system to outline such an approach. Throughout Vierne’s Mémoires he constantly recalls his desire (and the desire of his colleagues), to escape French compositional norms and employ a new form of “daring modernism.” In Rollin Smith’s book, Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the author mentions that Vierne’s harmonic language has been codified in the modes of limited transposition. To date, scholars have not found any harmonic or analytical evidence to verify that this apparent modal consciousness is, in fact, true. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation will trace this harmonic evolution through Vierne’s life and education, the organs of Cavaillé-Coll, and through Vierne’s compositions. My analysis of Vierne’s selected compositions will illustrate that this modal awareness is plausible. By briefly analyzing the “Scherzo” from the 6ème Symphonie, it seems that this once loosely used modal writing (at least for Vierne) began to evolve and become more logical. Not only does this help to prove Smith’s point, but it will also give organists a new look at Vierne’s music through a harmonic, analytical lens, one that has not been attempted before.
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