Musical Dramaturgy in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Theatre on the British Stage

  • Robert Nicholas Dean

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The purpose of this study is to identify the extent music was used as a dramaturgical component in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century theatre. In order to complete this project paradigmatic examples and historical evidence of theatrical practice are considered alongside film sound theory. This combination reveals similarities between the techniques, functions and effects music provides in a dramatic context and establishes the interdisciplinarity of the musical language used in modern film. Indeed, the apparent parallels between music’s role in film and the way theatre music was used in a historically and technologically separated period highlights both the lineage and overarching principles of musical dramaturgy. In addition, this thesis provides a framework for subsequent studies which seek to develop current understandings of dramatic expression by connecting historical cultural artefacts with modern cultural products that bear the same semiotic characteristics.

The results of this investigation have been organised into two main categories: non-diegetic music (part 1) and diegetic music (part 2). Both have been divided into smaller sections which identify and analyse particular musical techniques. Although the analysis focuses exclusively on British theatre this geographic boundary incorporates dramatic texts written by Ibsen and Chekhov which appeared on the British stage during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Furthermore, by discussing the plays performed during this period instead of concentrating on a single genre the following thesis identifies music’s role in both melodramatic and naturalistic productions. The methodology adopted in this study has been developed from the field of semiotics and as such the main analytical focus centres upon the way in which musical material creates meaning through its relationship with other signs. These semantic connections include elements within the production itself, established theatrical conventions, as well as additional cultural and inter-textual associations.
Date of Award23 Feb 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorDavid Ian Rabey (Supervisor)

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