Eclecticism and the American piano sonata: the assimilation of neoclassicim and the twelve-tone technique in the piano sonatas of Roger Sessions, Vincent Persichetti, and Ross Lee Finney
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As a genre, the piano sonata holds a vital place in the development of American music in the twentieth century. With well over four hundred American piano sonatas written within the past 100 years, the sheer number testifies to the genre’s popularity and demonstrates its importance within American music. In particular, the twentieth-century American piano sonata stands as a significant genre of choice for many composers. A selection of these piano sonatas illustrates a noteworthy stylistic shift from a neoclassical aesthetic to twelve-tone serial practice in the United States. Through a detailed study of the sonatas of Roger Sessions, Vincent Persichetti, and Ross Lee Finney, this treatise documents the shift from neoclassicism to twelve-tone serialism in the post-war era and the merging of these apparently different aesthetics. While these piano sonatas demonstrate the assimilation of two separate stylistic tendencies and contemporary languages, they also point to a broader, post-war tendency in American compositional style. The initial incorporation of the twelve-tone technique within a prevailingly neoclassical stylistic framework seems but a first step toward the further integration of disparate techniques and styles, yielding an eclecticism that propels American composition through the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Roger Sessions, Vincent Persichetti, and Ross Lee Finney’s assimilation of separate styles and techniques shows a crucial stage in the development of a widespread American eclecticism. Their infusion of neoclassical stylistic elements into a twelve-tone language gives a glimpse of the broader prevalence of eclecticism within the American piano sonata genre and within American contemporary music as a whole.