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The Rose Fades: A Comprehensive Study of Elizabeth R. Austin's Rose Sonata for Piano and Reciter

Christian Stephen Johnson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This document is intended to provide a complete history of the structural and musical development of the Rose Sonata for piano and reciter by Elizabeth R. Austin. Considering first its double-function identity as both a single-movement sonata and a modified chaconne, the Rose Sonata’s incorporation of recited poetic texts separates this work from practically any other piano sonata ever produced. Furthermore, by utilizing one singular theme throughout the entire work, the Sonata’s thematic development is reimagined with the use of Austin’s “window-paning” compositional technique. The title of this work derives from its architecture, based on the radial symmetry of the rose plant. Just as a rose’s petals begin from the center of the flower and bloom outwards, the Sonata’s primary theme appears in the center of the work and is continuously altered as it is quoted in the surrounding sections. This ultimately coincides with the traditional sonata-allegro form, with the center of the rose acting as the developmental section. The expository and recapitulatory sections instead represent the human action of physically approaching a rose, smelling its scent in the center, and departing from the rose. Although Austin’s inclusion of having poems recited throughout the Sonata is revolutionary in regard to the vast piano repertory, the pre-compositional process undertaken to specifically place these poems was no easy feat. By infusing the Golden Ratio into the Sonata’s skeletal framework, Austin planned for each poetic recitation to represent the occurrence of the golden mean in a given section. As the reading takes place, the pianist is encouraged to quietly improvise on a specific chord, fulfilling one of the composer’s explicit demands of the performer: to actively become a co-creator of the Sonata. Finally, in addition to a discussion of Austin’s non-tonal compositional language, a comprehensive survey of expired or unknown versions of the work will be discussed.

Subject Area

Music|Music theory|Musical composition

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Christian Stephen, "The Rose Fades: A Comprehensive Study of Elizabeth R. Austin's Rose Sonata for Piano and Reciter" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29162841.