A Study into Narrative and/as Composition (within popular music from the late-20th century onwards)

  • Benjamin Ault

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Works by Nicholls (2007) and Negus (2012) establish popular music to be rarely mentioned in narrative studies, and despite one of the fundamentals of narratology being “the isolation of patterns that recur across works” (Hogan, 2011, p. 9), a feature prevalent in much music through form, structure, and repetition, Nicholls argues that a single popular music track describes “entirely static - rather than kinetic - cameos, vignettes, or states of mind” (2007, p. 297) and that a single track alone cannot convey a narrative.

In this dissertation, applying theories of narratology to Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds (Wayne, 1978) and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Wakeman, 2014) alongside musical analysis of the pieces will identify how music can convey a narrative, translating an existing book into music within the context of a concept album. Further analysis of works by Led Zeppelin reveal how the characters and narratives within a book can be re-contextualised to tell new narratives within a single track by utilising nostalgia to help the listener understand what the artist is describing. Using the techniques employed by Wayne, Wakeman, and Zeppelin, I will present my own original works portraying the narrative of Beowulf, further showing how narratives can be used as a creative implement within music composition and providing a further example of how music can convey narrative.

Though a single popular track alone cannot convey a narrative, the result of this analysis and practical implementation shows that a series of tracks in the form of a concept album can provide each other narrative context that creates a consistent or continuous story, while a single track which makes reference to other works - both musical and non-musical - is given additional context, enabling the listener to form their own narrative or grant insight into the intended narrative of the artist.

Date of Award20 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGeoff Cox (Main Supervisor) & Dan White (Co-Supervisor)

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