Music History and Theory Forum: David Kasunic (Occidental College)

Event Date: 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 3:30pm to 4:45pm

Event Date Details: 

Event Location: 

  • Music Room 1145 (UCSB)

Event Price: 


Event Contact: 

Adriane Hill
Marketing and Communications Manager
UC Santa Barbara Department of Music
(805) 893-3230
David Kasunic
Dr. David Kasunic, Associate Professor of Music History at Occidental College, will present a lecture titled "Chopin Hero" on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 from 3:30-4:45 pm in Music Room 1145 as part of the Music History and Theory Forum. 
In his 1905 monograph Frédéric Chopin, Hugo Leichtentritt reproduced, in its entirety, Robert Schumann’s review of Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat Minor, Op. 35, in order to endorse Schumann’s general assessment of Chopin—that he could not handle large forms, that Chopin was and would remain a miniaturist. But in his 1921-22 Analyse des Chopin’schen Klavierwerke, Leichtentritt revised his opinion of Chopin’s Op. 35 to such an extent that he contributed to a larger reassessment of Chopin’s sonatas and handling of large forms. What accounts for Leichtentritt’s dramatic change of opinion?
This paper answers this question by examining the role that the writings of Heinrich Schenker played in the larger music-cultural reevaluation of Chopin’s art in the early decades of the twentieth century. With his first monograph, A Contribution to the Study of Ornamentation (1906), Schenker became the first music theorist to treat ornamentation in a scholarly manner. This monograph, perhaps inspired by Schenker’s former piano studies with Chopin’s pupil Karol Mikuli, marks the beginning of Schenker’s serious engagement with Chopin’s compositional style and the placing of his analyses of Chopin’s music alongside those of Beethoven’s. By doing so, Schenker stems the late-nineteenth-century tide of Chopin reception, ushered in by Schumann’s reviews and Liszt’s biography, which had relegated Chopin to being a composer of salon miniatures. In Chopin’s music, Schenker would locate an Urlinie, which, as Scott Burnham observes in Beethoven Hero (1995), he identified with “the presence of compositional genius and organic life in the musical work.” Consequently, Schenker invited early twentieth-century listeners to understand Chopin’s music in epic structural terms, as “organic” works of a “genius” composer, and thereby to place him in the realm of musical greatness occupied by Beethoven. Schenker’s extraordinarily influential reassessment of Chopin’s music occurred just prior to that music being called upon to serve as the national soundtrack for Poland’s struggle during and following the years of Nazi occupation. I conclude this paper by considering the complicated status of this music—of national identification and resistance, and produced by a Polish refugee—for the politically divided Poland of today.
Kasunic is an Associate Professor of Music History and has been at Occidental College since 2008, having first taught at Haverford College upon receiving his doctorate from Princeton in 2004. His research has focused on Chopin’s compositional relationship to French and Italian opera and contemporary singing practice, and the aesthetic, scientific, literary, and philosophical reception of singing in 1830s and ‘40s Paris. Two recent publications explore the phenomenon of tubercular singing, in Chopin’s music and in Verdi’s La traviata. His current research seeks to understand Chopin’s piano technique in the context of dance, and to develop a mode of analysis that will link piano technique to compositional craft, and body movement to sound. In addition to work on Chopin, his other research and publications have been on opera, the history of aesthetics, and Mahler. Teaching highlights include a popular double-course on the culture of food, co-taught with a cognitive scientist and sociologist, and an interdisciplinary course on fin-de-siècle Vienna that begins on campus and culminates in Vienna for a month of on-site instruction.


David Kasunic