Metric Dissonance and Hypermeter in the Chamber Music of Gabriel Fauré

Richard Vonfoerster, University of Colorado Boulder

Sixth advisor: Michael Lightner.


Perhaps because of its elusive and enigmatic character, Gabriel Fauré's music has received scant analytic attention. Most authors who have studied it analytically have examined Fauré's harmonic language, and have de-emphasized the rhythmic and metric features that also play an important role in defining his style. While his piano and vocal music is best known, his instrumental chamber works represent a significant component of his oeuvre, and they are the focus of this study.

Building on the important work of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, Harald Krebs, and Richard Cohn, I present an analytic approach to Fauré's rhythm and meter that involves identifying metric levels active within a given passage of music. My approach yields important insights about his treatment of rhythm and meter, particularly in the areas of metric dissonance and hypermeter. It modifies and expands on existing metric models and methodologies in the areas of lowest levels, highest levels, intermittent levels, non-isochronous levels, and adjacent levels, and introduces a new graphic representation of metric phenomena, the metric state graph, a modified version of Richard Cohn's ski-hill graph.

My examination of three movements from Fauré's chamber music (the final movement of his Piano Trio, the first movement of his First Violin Sonata, and the first movement of his First Cello Sonata) identifies several characteristic features of Fauré's metric language, including frequent metric dissonance, multiple simultaneous dissonances, non-duple hypermeter, and very large hypermetric structures. These metric devices help to define large-scale form, provide shape and direction, and set the music's emotional tone.

This analytic model proves useful for music other than Fauré's chamber works. By applying the model to vocal works of Fauré and works by contemporaneous composers (Camille Saint-Saëns and Maurice Ravel), as well as to works by late twentieth century composers (Philip Glass and Alfred Schnittke), I demonstrate its versatility, and suggest areas of future research such as the extent of stylistic influence between Fauré and other composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.