The Music of Brahms

The Music of Brahms

The Music of Brahms

The Music of Brahms

Synopsis

Michael Musgrave presents a contemporary view of Brahms 150 years after his birth, seeing him not simply as the "conservative" figure so often stressed in the past, but as one who creatively reinterpreted a wider range of historical elements than any composer of his time. Brahms absorbed his studies directly into his music making and composition and in so doing helped to evolve not merely a personal language which was regarded as progressive and sometimes difficult by a range of contemporaries and successors, but also helped to establish an ethos of historical reference which anticipates the twentieth century. The Music of Brahms concentrates on the music, with Brahms's life discussed briefly in the introduction. The works are considered in four phases according to genre, with an emphasis on connection and on the development and elaboration of a unified language. The list of works includes recent discoveries and a calendar outlines the pattern of his musical life, including relevant information concerning performances.

Excerpt

Unlike the observer of the centenary of Brahms's birth in 1933, the witness of the sesquicentenary year of 1983 might well have been familiar with different views of the composer's significance. The first -- long-established and still the most familiar in the English-speaking world -- portrays him as the great classic figure of nineteenth-century German music, a retrospective master of traditional forms in a period when they seemed increasingly outmoded by new aesthetic attitudes: a figure of the past. Thus Gerald Abraham summed him up as follows just before the Second World War: 'So . . . great a figure as he is, Brahms contributed little to the historical development of music [and he] stands practically alone. [Those] who came under his influence all seem to have been nonentities. Only the young Reger and the Hungarian Dohnányi really owe much to him.' The years after the war have seen, however, a rather contrasted attitude: that of Brahms as a 'progressive', a pioneering individualist who, behind a conventional aesthetic surface, actually made a profound contribution to the very essence of musical language.

The first view was already very well established in Brahms's lifetime when the dialectics of nineteenth-century musical politics placed him squarely as the opponent of Wagner, albeit in a situation to which he had in some way contributed through his opposition to Liszt. This view was reinforced with the radical changes of taste which occurred at the turn of the century, when Brahms's very greatness as a craftsman became the object of scorn for the threat it posed to the advancement of art in the eyes of the more partisan 'progressives'. To the growing cleavage between the proponents of a 'progressive' philosophy of the relation of the arts and those who resisted the devaluation of traditional forms already focused on the Leipzig school before his appearance, Brahms came to be the inevitable symbol for the conservative camp; deeply interested in the past, suspicious of verbalizations on music, and gifted to a degree which was never questioned, even by his worst enemies. In his own words, he unwillingly became an . . .

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