A comparative analysis of poetic structure as the primary determinant of musical form in selected a cappella choral works of Gerald Finzi and Benjamin Britten

Andrew Malcolm Jensen


Numerous scholars have identified the relationship linking words and music as the prime factor in the success of both Gerald Finzi's and Benjamin Britten's vocal music. However, few authors provide a satisfactory discussion concerning the specific musical elements used to achieve that success. Those that do, typically focus upon textual/musical correspondences that highlight poetic meaning at the phrase or single word level. Additionally, no known source draws connections between the text-setting practices of these composers. This dissertation seeks to identify the association of text and music on a larger scale: specifically, the influence of poetic structure as the primary determinant of musical form in selected a cappella choral works of Gerald Finzi and Benjamin Britten. Chapter II presents a chronological account (1901-1976) of significant people, places, and events that shaped both composers' lives and influenced their musical activities. The following section on historical perspective offers a critical examination of Finzi and Britten's compositional style and evaluates their respective identities in the landscape of twentieth-century English composers. The correlation of poetic structure and musical form is explored in Chapters III and IV through detailed poetic and musical analyses of comparable works by each composer: Finzi's Seven Poems of Robert Bridges, Op. 17 and Britten's Five Flower Songs, Op. 47 . Each song is discussed in two distinct sections: Poetic Form and Musical Form and Texture . These analyses confirm that textural variation is used to articulate musical form: a form which itself is determined by the poetic structure of its text. In each instance, the composer sought to delineate divisions of poetic thought through an assortment of vocal textures including homophony, freely imitative polyphony, voice pairing, canon, fugato, instrumentally derived melody/accompaniment figures, rhythmic differentiation, and the purposeful use of metric space. Chapter V offers a comparative synthesis of ideas presented in Chapters II, III, and IV, resulting in the following conclusion: while both composers allow poetic structure to guide musical form, each employs textural variation in a distinctive manner, thus adhering to previously established compositional traits and maintaining their distinctive musical style.