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Melancholia in Twentieth-Century British Cello Concertos, Sonatas, and Solo Works: 1900-1980


This dissertation explores how various early-twentieth century British composers used the cello as an instrument of melancholy and mourning in response to loss. Through an analysis of the biographies, correspondence, music, and cultural dimensions of Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Frank Bridge, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi, E.J. Moeran, Gustav Holst, Edmund Rubbra, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and William Walton, all who composed significant cello works, this dissertation illuminates the legacy of melancholy that the cello came to symbolize. The first chapter surveys melancholia, what the sixteenth-century author, philosopher, and Anglican clergyman Robert Burton called the “English malady.” Identifying its causes within British history, religion, and literature, the chapter argues that the immense tragedies of the twentieth century compelled these composers to aestheticize grief through new cello works. Chapter two analyzes how Elgar's valedictory and influential cello concerto portrays the composer’s histrionic lament over the passing of the world he knew. Chapter three meditates on Delius's Double Concerto, Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata, Serenade, and Caprice and Elegie, revealing the paradoxical melancholy of his fervid musical pantheism. In a study of Bridge's Cello Sonata and Oration, Concerto Elegiaco, the fourth chapter argues that Bridge negotiated the national and continental musical trends in order to meet the emotional exigencies of his artistic development during and after the Great War. The fifth chapter provides a hiatus from melancholic musings by presenting five British cellists, all women, who contributed to the success of several of the works discussed in the dissertation. Chapter six, a comparison of Herbert Howells and Gerald Finzi in tandem with their respective cello concertos, posits that the loss of childhood innocence—literally in the death of Howells's son Michael and figuratively in Finzi's experience of early losses—informed their cello compositions profoundly. Finally, by casting a wider vision on British musical melancholy and the cello, the seventh chapter considers the "British malady's" continued impact on lesser known cello works by E.J. Moeran, Edmund Rubbra, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and William Walton, further demonstrating the cello's association with melancholy in twentieth-century Britain.

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