Patrick McCreless

Patrick McCreless



history of music theory; Wagner, rhetorical and narrative approaches to analysis.


Master of Music in Music Theory from the University of Michigan, and the Ph. D. in Music Theory from the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. Before coming to Yale in 1998, he taught for fifteen years at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was Associate Director of the School of Music, and five years before that at the Eastman School of Music. 

Much of his work has focused on Wagner and on the music of the late nineteenth century. His dissertation/book Wagner's Siegfried: Its Drama, Its History, and Its Music, remains one of the few monographs on a single Wagner opera. In "Schenker and the Norns" he brings later nineteenth-century tonal and structural principles together with Schenkerian analytical principles to bear on the opening scene of the Prologue ofGötterdämmerung. In another essay on Wagner, "A Motivic Dyad in Parsifal," he shows how a simple pair of pitch-classes bears the structural weight of much of the musical drama. Another early article examines the analytical work of the Swiss theorist Ernst Kurth, whose pathbreaking book on Wagnerian harmony, Romantische Harmonik und Ihre Krise in Wagner's Tristan, set the stage for later twentieth-century approaches to Wagner's music. 

From his work on Wagner he has branched out to consider a much wider range of topics. He addresses larger problems of harmony and chromaticism in late tonal music in "Syntagmatics and Paradigmatics," "Schenker and Chromatic Tonicization: A Reappraisal," and "An Evolutionary Perspective on Semitone Relations in the Nineteenth Century." Before serving as President of the Society for Music Theory in 1993 to 1995, he wrote a retrospective on the history and practice of music theory in the United States, "Rethinking Contemporary Music Theory." Here he appropriates the work of Michel Foucault on disciplinarity to put the development of contemporary theory into historical perspective. More recently, following a long-standing interest in the discipline of rhetoric, he contributed the article "Music and Rhetoric" to The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, edited by Thomas Christensen.  Another long-term interest is the music of Shostakovich, about which he has one essay in print and two forthcoming (see bibliography).  In the past few years he has begun again to address aspects of chromaticism in tonal music:  at the Sixth Annual Mannes Institute for Music Theory of 2006, which he co-directed at Yale with colleague Dan Harrison; in an essay (2007) on Elgar's use of chromaticism; in a talk, "'There Is Sweet Music':  Thoughts on Tonality, 2008," at the Tonality in Perspective Conference at King's College London, in March of 2008; and in an upcoming seminar at Yale (spring 2009) on Wagner's Tristan.

As a practical musician, he is a choral director and organist, serving as Director of Music ad the First Presbyterian Church of New Haven since 1999.

Selected Publications: 
Wagner's Siegfried: Its Drama, History, and Music. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982. 

"Ernst Kurth and the Analysis of the Chromatic Music of the Late Nineteenth Century." Music Theory
Spectrum 5 (1983), 56-75. 

"The Cycle of Structure and the Cycle of Meaning: Shostakovich's Piano Trio in E Minor, Op. 67." In Shostakovich Studies, ed. David Fanning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 113-136. 

"An Evolutionary Perspective on Semitone Relations in the Nineteenth Century." In The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality, ed. William Kinderman and Harald Krebs. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996, 87-113. 

"Rethinking Contemporary Music Theory." In Keeping Score: Music, Disciplinarity, Culture, ed. David Schwarz and Anahid Kassabian. Charlottesvile: University of Virginia Press, 1997. 

"Music and Rhetoric." In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Thomas Christensen. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 847-79.

"Isolde's Transfiguration in Words and Music."  In Engaging Music, ed. Deborah Stein. New York:  Oxford University Press, 2004,

"The Anatomy of a Gesture:  From Davidovsky to Chopin and Back."  In Approaches to Musical Meaning, ed. Byron Almén and Edward Pearsall.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2006, 11-40.

"Elgar and the Theory of Chromaticism."  In Elgar Studies, ed. Julian Rushton and J.P.E. Harper-Scott.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007,

"Dmitri Shostakovich:  The String Quartets." in Intimate Voices:  The String Quartet in the Twentieth Century.  Rochester:  University of Rochester Press, forthcoming 2009.

"Analysis and Performance:  A Counterexample?"  Dutch Journal of Music Theory, forthcoming 2009.

"Shostakovich and the Politics of D Minor, 1931-1949."  In Shostakovich Studies 2, ed. Pauline Fairclough.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2009.