Date of Degree


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Peter Basquin

Committee Members

L. Michael Griffel

John Graziano

Sylvia Kahan

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The piano works of Páll Ísólfsson (1893-1974) form a diverse collection of twenty-six pieces that consists of nineteen character pieces, one set of variations, and six liturgical pieces. They were composed during 1920-1970, and now for the first time, the collection can, in this dissertation, be appreciated in its entirety. The important steps taken along the way have included publication, recordings, research and concert performances.

The character pieces divide into four groups according to stylistic influence and maturity. Most of the earlier pieces fall into the "humorous burlesque" or "sentimental lyric" group; the other two groups belong to traditional dance genres, as well as works that express "Weltschmerz" through the tonal and harmonic language of late-nineteenth-century Romanticism.

Ísólfsson's only large-scale work for piano, Tilbrigdi, consists of a theme and seventeen variations and is a virtuosic tour de force. The work, a tribute to the composer's father, is a comprehensive essay on variation techniques and is a fine addition to the catalogue of variation sets for piano solo. The six liturgical pieces which complete the s퀌_lfsson collection represent the composer's religious views and his thorough and admiring position towards the music of J. S. Bach.

The premise of the dissertation is that the piano works are sophisticated compositions and that as a collection they form an ambitious and diverse repertoire that belongs to the piano literature of the northern European and Scandinavian countries. To support this, I evaluate Ísólfsson's collection in a larger perspective that entails comparing it with similar works by other composers; furthermore, information as to the style and standing of his piano works in his native country, Iceland, is presented with the aid of a questionnaire and a list of representative works by a selection of his contemporaries; finally, the collective reception history of Ísólfsson's piano works is discussed both in light of the anti-Romantic sentiment in Iceland's music circles around the middle of the twentieth century and subsequently with regard to published reviews about performances of the collection.

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