Music, School of


First Advisor

Dr. Anthony Bushard

Second Advisor

Kathleen Butler

Date of this Version



A DOCTORAL DOCUMENT Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Musical Arts, Major: Music (Vocal Performance), Under the Supervision of Professors Anthony Bushard and Kathleen Butler. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Katie Mersch


This document explores the art songs for lyric soprano and piano of contemporary composer William Vollinger (b. 1945). Vollinger’s penchant for storytelling inspires his song compositions and the myriad of different stories he relays. In the majority of Vollinger’s art songs for voice and piano, he features the real-life stories of ordinary people and interweaves moral messages. Moreover, all song texts analyzed appear in prose rather than metered poetry, follow the linear narrative structure of short stories, and originate from a variety of unconventional sources.

Freytag’s Pyramid, a diagram created to analyze dramatic structures, serves as a useful model for discussing the intersection of music and texts in Vollinger’s art songs based on its applicability to a variety of linear narrative forms and thematic content. By building on the familiar foundation of story narratives, such analysis can function as a relatable tool to help performers better understand Vollinger’s music and illuminate the song texts so they can make informed, interpretative choices.

This document merges an interest in Vollinger as a composer and the stories he retells with a structural analysis of the song texts based on Freytag’s Pyramid which informs a discussion of his musical settings. I begin with a biography of Vollinger followed by information on the general style of his art songs for voice and piano. I then outline my methodology for analysis of “Benalisa,” “Alice,” “Ruth,” “Daddy Verne,” and the song cycle, Acts of Kindness. According to each song’s text, I highlight salient musical features present in the melody, harmony, and accompaniment that elucidate the texts and are informed by my delineated structural divisions based on Freytag’s model.

Advisors: Anthony Bushard and Kathleen Butler

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