Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning

Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning

Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning

Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning

Synopsis

Contributors to this exciting new volume examine the intersection of structure and meaning in Brahms's music, utilizing a wide range of approaches, from the theories of Schenker to the most recent analytical techniques. They combine various viewpoints with the semiotic-based approaches of Robert Hatten, and address many of the most important genres in which Brahms composed. The essays reveal the expressive power of a work through the comparison of specific passages in one piece to similar works and through other artistic realms such as literature and painting. The result of this intertextual re-framing is a new awareness of the meaningfulness of even Brahms's most "absolute" works.

Excerpt

From where he sat, Clive tried to prevent his attention from being drawn into
technical detail. For now, it was the music, the wondrous transformation of
thought into sound…. Sometimes Clive worked so hard on a piece that he could
lose sight of his ultimate purpose—to create this pleasure at once so sensual and
abstract, to translate into vibrating air this nonlanguage whose meanings were
forever just beyond reach, suspended tantalizingly at a point where emotion and
intellect fused.

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam

Although the omniscient narrator of Ian McEwan’s novel Amsterdam attributes these thoughts to a fictional late twentieth-century British composer, Clive Linley, contemplating his own composition, Linley’s reflections capture something of the universal mystery of music. The dualities the narrator develops between technical detail and wondrous transformation, between thought and sound, between hard work and sensual pleasure also resonate strongly with the unique musical persona of Johannes Brahms, a composer whose works have long been admired for their highly wrought craftsmanship as well as for their expressive immediacy. So, too, do the narrator’s words capture something of the challenge faced by the music scholar dedicated to the close study of Brahms’s compositions. How does one remain attuned to Brahms’s abundant compositional craft—the fruits of the composer’s hard labor and a self-conscious emblem of his works’ individuality— without losing sight of the music’s sensual beauty? Moreover, how do we engage a musical language that, while not strictly referential, nevertheless possesses deep meaning?

Despite the acuity of McEwan’s narrative voice (not to mention the beauty of his prose), the thoughts this voice attributes to the composer Linley remain somewhat marred by an abundance of potentially false dichotomies. Rather than accept the assumption that emotion and intellect stand at odds in Brahms—that we, like Clive Linley, need to avoid being drawn into technical details in order to appreciate the wondrous transformation of thought . . .

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