Dr Sarah Moynihan

Supervised by

Research interests

Sibelius and Materiale Formenlehre: Projections Beyond the Edges of Musical Form

Jean Sibelius’s position in historical narratives of Western art music has always been precarious. This thesis interrogates existing approaches to his music, tracing their heritage to the turbulent political landscape of the 1930s so as to create a new analytical model that will complicate and reform the currently accepted view of Sibelius as an ‘early modernist’; reposition him in music history; and contribute to the understanding of the music of his contemporaries.

The early twentieth century saw a polarising rift emerge in the reception of Sibelius, whereby he was either venerated as Beethoven’s symphonic successor or seen as degenerative and anachronistic. Adorno is taken as representative of the latter reaction, yet his condematory critique of 1938 targeted Sibelius’s cultish advocacy. Much later in the century, the critique provoked defensive reactions from Sibelius scholars who frequently avoid the worrying questions that Adorno raises and instead treat him as a scapegoat to be sacrificially refuted.

James Hepokoski’s expansion of modernism into ‘early modernism’ – a periodization inclusive of Sibelius’s generation of symphonists – relies on an unspoken reconceptualization of Adorno’s Mahlerian categories of materiale Formenlehre into ‘sonata deformations’: specifically, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Breakthrough’. My thesis breaks new ground by reformulating these more transparently in light of their Adornian conception, and by challenging the interpretive tropes of nature and nationhood from the other side of the rift that are uncritically absorbed into Hepokoski’s other deformations. The thesis presents analytical theories of ‘sonorous’ or ‘multivalent’ voice-leading and ‘rotational projection’ that join Adorno’s and Hepokoski’s categories and demystify the processes of blurring and rupture at the rotational edges of Sibelian forms. At particular moments, Sibelius’s music contains two potential rotational pathways that are followed simultaneously to fulfil the form’s conflicting internal and external demands. These ‘projections’ paradoxically converge with a harmonic dissonance or formal rupture that points beyond the form itself to something spatially outside.


Research interests (continued)

Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Western art music; music theory and analysis, especially sonata theory, Schenkerian analysis, and neo-Riemannian theory; manuscript and sketch studies; conceptions of nationalism in music; musical modernism; ecocriticism; critical theory and Adorno.

Educational background

BA (Hons) in Music  - St Hugh's College, University of Oxford 2010

MA in Composition - University of Bristol 2011 (Distinction)


Oct 2013 - Present      Tutor at University of Oxford  

                                    FHS Music Analysis and Criticism (Yr 2-3)

                                    FHS Sounding North (Yr 3)


Oct 2013 - Aug 2014   Lecture and Convenor at Music Department, University of Nottingham

                                    Analysis of Tonal Music: Schenkerian Analysis (Yr 3)

                                    Analysis Project (dissertation supervision, Yr 3)


Oct 2012 - Dec 2013   Teaching and Marking Assistant at Music Department, Royal Holloway

                                    Studies in Music Analysis: Schenkerian Analysis (Yr 2)

                                    Music Theory and Analysis (Yr 1)

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