Front cover image for Brief immortality : recasting history in the music of Brahms

Brief immortality : recasting history in the music of Brahms

Roger Scott Moseley, University of California, Berkeley (Degree granting institution)
Combining historical contextualization with close musical readings, my dissertation explores the dynamics that shaped Brahms's musical and cultural position either side of the late 1870s, when his prominence in German music was secured (and symbolized by the appearance of his forbidding, grizzled beard). Through examining the activities of Brahms's scholarly acquaintances in different fields, I argue that the composer and his allies in the nascent field of Musikwissenschaft shared a complex, interwoven agenda that not only promoted the historicizing of music (in self-conscious contrast to the neudeutsch "music of the future"), but also "musicalized" history by reading and writing it within the pages of scores and enacting it in the concert hall. The first two chapters investigate how these cultural and musicological concerns take shape within the discourse of Brahms's "absolute" music, from the different kinds of allusion in each version of the Piano Trio in B, op. 8, to the "sublimated biography" of the two piano concertos, opp. 15 and 83. The third chapter, a consideration of the Double Concerto, op. 102, shows how the composer's historical orientation put him increasingly at odds with the anti-intellectual ferment of fin-de-siecle Vienna. In the last chapter, I pursue these conflicts by examining the reception of two of Brahms's late works--the Second String Quintet, op. 111, and the Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33--in the first half of the twentieth century. The ease with which Brahms's Weltanschauung was co-opted by Third Reich musicologists warns against ignoring the forces that shaped it, and I conclude that recognizing our critical and historical distance from Brahms can enable us to get closer to the subtle ambiguities that informed his musical achievements and the culture that sustained them
Thesis, Dissertation, English, 2004