In the first decades of the twentieth century, a flurry of composers in the German-speaking world were engaged in an arms race of sorts, creating musical monuments of extreme size and overt philosophical circumstance. As a discipline, music theory has struggled to address the large-scale formal dimension of these “maximalist” works, despite the persistent attention paid to formal theory in recent years. I adopt a pluralist approach to form-functional methodology in order to describe the maximalizing techniques these composers employed, techniques that inevitably warp the received models of large-scale form and challenge the very notion of long-range musical coherence.
The corpus of works under scrutiny includes Gustav Mahler’s late symphonies, the tone poems of Richard Strauss, and Arnold Schoenberg’s First String Quartet. In the first chapter, I focus on the aesthetic and structural consequences of “maximalist” music, exploring issues of genre, symphonic and sonata forms, and coherence. I present a notion of musical form-as-genre, which enables formally meaningful moments to summon the full rhetorical weight of their constitutive large-scale form. Each of the next three chapters addresses a single approach to maximalist composition. Chapter 2 considers Mahler’s generic mixture in the sonata-dialogic movements of his last three symphonic works. The chapter culminates with an analysis of the Rondo-Burleske from the Ninth symphony, adapting Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque to understand the movement as a parodic rondo-sonata hybrid. Chapter 3 centers around a detailed study of Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie, investigating issues of narrative, program, and especially drama. I view the movement as a unique manifestation of sonata form, which I address by borrowing Gustav Freytag’s theory of dramatic structure. Chapter 4 critiques the notion of cyclic form, and in particular Steven Vande Moortele’s model of “Two-Dimensional Sonata Form.” I draw on the work of Mieke Bal in the realm of embedded narrative and mise en abyme to present Schoenberg’s First Quartet as a large-scale process of conversion from sonata to rondo. The final chapter zooms out to address issues of maximalism outside of the Germanic world, while also speculating on the challenges posed by detailed analyses of maximalist works.