Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph Straus

Committee Members

Jeff Nichols

Bruce Saylor

David Schober

Subject Categories

Composition | Music Theory


Musical analysts have often commented on the lingering echoes of tonality present within the otherwise non-centered (and remarkably complex) harmonic world of Oliver Knussen’s music. Using his piece Variations, Op. 24 as a model, this project hypothesizes that the compositional techniques Knussen employs serve to create non-tonal pitch hierarchies. Although Knussen does not use functional tonal harmony in this piece, he finds a variety of ways to elevate the pitch A to a place of prominence, both on the musical surface and in the background structural operations. These techniques naturally result in pitch spaces that are rich with tonal and modal implications, but Knussen approaches these spaces using entirely non-tonal frameworks. This project also examines Knussen’s impeccable sense of timing and drama, and attempts to identify the compositional elements that contribute to the pacing and form of this composition. I uncover intricate layers of musical material on separate but interconnected trajectories, and formal sections that are both discrete and dovetailed, all contributing to what Knussen calls the “big shape of the piece.”