Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Musicology (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Melissa de Graaf

Second Committee Member

Karen Henson

Third Committee Member

Bryn Hughes


Delineating what exactly constitutes expressionism in music remains a perpetually confounding area of musicological scholarship, susceptible to prosaic definitions that do little to illuminate anything beyond conspicuous surface elements. There is a clear necessity for developing a method that allows scholars to come to terms with the movement in its own right. The primary goal of this thesis is to lay such a foundation by accounting for expressionism as practiced by the movement’s alleged figurehead—Arnold Schoenberg. In this thesis, I will examine three of the works that are most often described as “expressionist”: Erwartung, Pierrot lunaire, and Die glückliche Hand. I shall utilize both a historical and analytical perspective that incorporates music semiology to illustrate that three unique but highly interrelated metaphors concerning the forest, the moon, and the mind are paired with and help define each of the individual works. Together, these combined metaphors and their varied significances point towards a primary aesthetic precept that defines expressionist music: the distortion of convention.


Schoenberg; expressionism; fin-de-siècle Vienna; semiology