The piano was the nineteenth-century status-symbol and the epitome of domestic bourgeois ideology. Learning to play the piano was a necessary part in the education of any well-bred girl. Also, the piano could provide the married woman with a rare possibility for an artistic escapade from her gendered identity.
Henrik Ibsen used this motif in three dramas: A Doll House, Hedda Gabler and John Gabriel Borkman. Ibsen’s “scenes at the piano” developed from Nora’s tarantella dance to Borkman’s Danse Macabre. This thesis focused on the named dramas, examining how the piano functioned as Ibsen’s aesthetic lens for the age’s cultural struggles. The dramatist used the piano both as the epitome of the oppressive cultural forces of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie as well as a means it resorted to, hoping to transcend those forces. The piano proved to be the characters’ companion in critical life situations, as well as the very metaphor for their crises.
As a consequence, this thesis calls for a re-evaluation of Ibsen’s dramatic work based on an interdisciplinary perspective. In Ibsen’s prose dramas, auditory elements in general, and musical segments in particular, serve to a different purpose than music in his early works. They create an important layer of metaphoric meaning, and are crucial in the dramas’ structure.
This thesis brings Ibsen into a larger context of nineteenth-century literature where the piano figures as an intense site of personal and universal cultural struggles. It addresses literary and cultural scholars as well as musicologists and feminist scholars.