Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Musical Narrative, Narrative, Chamber Music, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, British Music, English Musical Renaissance

Major Advisor

Peter Kaminsky

Associate Advisor

Alain Frogley

Associate Advisor

Eric Rice

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The aim of this dissertation is to apply a narrative analytical lens to selected cyclic British chamber music compositions from the early part of the twentieth century: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Piano Quintet in C Minor (1903) and Phantasy Quintet (1912); Rebecca Clarke’s Piano Trio (1921); and Frank Bridge’s String Quartet No. 3 (1927). This narrative reading will examine both micro- and macroscopic elements of the selected works, including large-scale formal structures, thematic recurrence and transformation, motivic manipulation, and pitch-class conflict.

Chapter One contextualizes these works with respect to the musical, educational, and compositional culture of the English Musical Renaissance. Chapter Two provides an overview of the history of musical narrative, its main practitioners, and its critics, as the point of departure for my methodology. The ensuing chapters proceed chronologically, from a mostly tonal compositional language associated with traditional formal constraints to one that is mostly atonal and formally less predictable.

Chapter Three compares two early works of Vaughan Williams in terms of their relative success in incorporating influences from both his German compositional lineage and his burgeoning interest in the national music of Britain. While the 1903 Piano Quintet attempts a stylistic synthesis, the two languages never coalesce in a satisfactory way, and the work avoids any convincing sense of closure. In 1912, the Phantasy Quintet more successfully merges the two influences, leading to a sense of both structural and narrative closure.

Chapter Four focuses on musical memory and its deployment in Rebecca Clarke’s 1921 Piano Trio. Written three years after World War I, Clarke’s composition features stark contrast between diatonic and symmetrical pitch collections. The interaction of alternative scales and pure modality, and the former’s corruption of the British folk idiom, serves to underscore the devastation incurred during the war.

In the final chapter, the post-tonal language of Frank Bridge’s String Quartet No. 3 and its gradual unfolding from a beginning state of formal convention to one of increasing ambiguity combine to suggest an anti-narrative. In particular, the pervasive thematic recurrence sets up an expectation of transformation but ultimately does not deliver.