An analysis of Priaulx Rainier’s Barbaric Dance Suite for piano

Kruger, Esthea (2009-03)

Thesis (MMus (Music))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986) was a South-African born composer whose highly original compositional style attracted great attention during her lifetime. She spent most of her life in England, but was inspired by the images and recollections of her youth in Africa. Despite the critical acclaim she received, little research has been done about her, both in South Africa and abroad. Additionally, the nature of existing sources is mostly not analytical, but rather provides an overview of her life or general aspects of her style. Although some conclusions have been drawn about her compositional style, they are not thoroughly substantiated by concrete analytical evidence. Also, the focus is mostly on her prominent rhythmic use (often linked by authors to the “African” element of her idiom), with an evident disregard of the other aspects of style, most notably with regard to pitch coherence. This research attempts to correct this unbalanced discourse by analysing one of her few solo piano works, the Barbaric Dance Suite (composed in 1949), and pointing out significant pitch relations, similarities and contrasts. The rationale for selecting this specific work originated from Rainier’s own pronouncement that “The Suite is a key to all my later music, for in the three DANCES, their structural embryo is, on a small scale, the basis for most of the later works.” Although the scope of the research did not allow for a comparative analysis, it is strongly believed that the conclusions reached in this study could also be applicable to many of Rainier’s other works, especially of the early period. The study consists of an introduction in which the Barbaric Dance Suite is contextualised, followed by the main body of the thesis that consists of a detailed analysis of each of the three movements. The foremost method of analysis used is set theory analysis, which could be briefly described as a method whereby (particularly atonal) music is segmented and categorised in pitch class sets. As set theory focuses exclusively on the dimension of pitch, traditional methods of analysis are employed to examine the other musical parameters. In the conclusion, the analytical results are contextualised with regard to existing pronouncements on Rainier’s oeuvre. The study also comments on the applicability of set theory as analytical system in Rainier’s music. The many complex pitch relations that were discovered by the intensive analysis of pitch content has given enough evidence to conclude that Rainier’s use of sonorities has been unjustly neglected in the discourse of this work and perhaps also in her musical style as a whole. It is hoped that further detailed analysis of her use of sonorities in other works could lead authorities to revise the insistent pronouncements on her rhythmic use in favour of a more balanced assessment of all aspects of her compositional style.

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