Past Recipients of the Geiringer Scholarship

The Karl Geiringer Scholarship in Brahms Studies is awarded annually as meritorious candidates present themselves.


Adam Behan (University of Cambridge)
“Life, Work and the Individual Classical Performer: Maria Yudina’s Artistic Practice and Imagination, 1947–70”

One timeless musicological issue is the question of how (or indeed whether) a musician’s life and work can be interwoven convincingly. Critical reflections on such matters, however, have for the most part focused on composers. With the rise of musical performance studies as a field of inquiry in its own right, this question of life and work has become increasingly pressing with respect to performers. This is because the detailed study of individual classical performers has traditionally been restricted to the genre of music biography, one which is rich in contextualisation but light on direct, analytical engagement with the performer’s musical abilities as captured in recordings. More recent approaches to performance use empirical techniques to measure and discuss what is termed performer ‘style,’ but often without embedding that style within the context of said performer’s life or cultural surroundings. In other words, there is a methodological rift of sorts between biographical and empirical approaches to performers, one which creates a sharp divide between life and work. 

 In a nutshell, my PhD attempts to integrate such contextual and quantitative approaches through a study of the twentieth-century Russian pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (1899–1970), a neglected but enormously significant musician in the Soviet Union. Case studies include Yudina’s remarkable interpretations of music from Bach to Webern, framed variously by discussions of liveness, Soviet vnye culture, identity, community-building, elegy, lateness, and craft, the last of which I posit as a potential alternative to the term ‘style’ as a means of reconceptualising the performer’s work. 

The thesis culminates with a study of Yudina’s last record for solo piano, taped on 21 September 1968, of a collection of six intermezzos by Brahms, which she selected from across Opp. 116–119. What renders this collection especially significant is that Yudina wrote a reflective, quasi-philosophical essay to accompany it. In this essay—which is deeply imbued with themes of mortality, nostalgia, loss and mourning—she conceives of Brahms’s intermezzos as musical elegies, providing programmatic content in a commentary on each individual piano miniature. In my final chapter, I undertake an analysis of her performances of these intermezzos informed by her essay. I show how the aesthetic bundle Yudina forges through her recordings and essay can be understood (following Ross Cole) as an act of autobiographical making linked to her own experiences of aging and romantic love, and how her choice of intermezzos and means of interpreting them enact this musically.


Robert Anderson (University of North Texas)
“‘Ideal Hausmusik’: Brahms’s Vocal Quartets (opp. 31, 52, 64, 65, 92, 103) and the Politics of Domestic Music ca. 1848-1900”

This dissertation contextualizes Brahms’s vocal quartets within a largely forgotten discourse about Hausmusik that flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century. Advocates of Hausmusik understood it as an aesthetically and politically conservative expression of German identity and connected its accessible style to an ideal of social cohesion in the pre-industrial age. Similar issues of national identity and musical style arise in the reception of Brahms’s quartets, which I argue, was informed by the works’ generic status as Hausmusik. Critics either praised Brahms’s works for their simple, folk-like style or disparaged their complexity, artifice, and foreignness. Ultimately, I argue, Brahms sought to elevate Hausmusik in his vocal quartets by integrating its aesthetic and cultural values with a more sophisticated musical style. The works’ resulting stylistic and generic ambiguity and the disparity in critics’ responses reveal competing aesthetic, political, and cultural world views immediately before and after German unification.


Laurence Willis (McGill University)
“When Materials Collide: Formal Interplay in Ternary Piano Works of the Late Nineteenth Century”

This dissertation accounts for how musical materials (motivic, harmonic, and rhythmic) of the various sections of a ternary late Romantic piano work may be heard to influence one another. To explore these patterns, he first explains the current theorizing around late nineteenth-century short piano works, with particular emphasis on the research of Ryan McClelland, Ann Besser Scott, Allen Cadwallader, and Edward T. Cone in regard to Johannes Brahms. To describe how various musical materials may relate to one another across a work, he explores two musical techniques, transfer and compensation. Transfer comes about when we hear materials associated with one section reappear in a contrasting section. Compensation accounts for relationships between sections not expressed through transfer. Usually, compensation takes the form of a musical “problem” being proposed early in a work, which the final section somehow “solves.” Willis develops a set of paradigms for the interpretation of trans-sectional effects in short piano works and explains his paradigms through analytical examples drawn from the piano compositions of Brahms, Reger, Fauré, Scriabin, Respighi, and Gian Francesco Malipiero spanning the years 1892–1916.


Ji-Young Kim (Cornell University)
“Innere Stimmen and Hidden Duets in the Piano Music of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms”

The music of Robert Schumann has long prompted discussions about the physical and the ideal, embodiment and disembodiment, utterance and imagination. Relatedly, scholars have analyzed how, in Brahms’s piano works, allusion and counterpoint take on affective meaning in acts of performance. My dissertation, “Innere Stimmen and Hidden Duets in the Piano Music of Schumann and Brahms,” explores these domains through the lens of “four-handedness”—the evocation of four-hand playing in solo keyboard works.

Recompositions between two-hand and four-hand repertoire provide a historical anchor and open hermeneutic horizons. The dissertation then culminates with two extensive case studies—on Schumann’s Impromptus sur une romance de Clara Wieck, Op. 5, and Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 9—where circumstantial evidence hints at four-handedness as a rich channel for experiencing and communicating musical knowledge and intimacy. Interactive modes of engagement in Schumann’s Op. 5 set the stage for Brahms’s Op. 9 two decades later. Drawing on music analysis and primary sources, I elucidate how counterpoint, choreography, and allusion come together to release their emotional power at a particular moment in the year 1854.


Reuben Phillips (Princeton University)
“Brahms as Reader”

This dissertation contextualizes Brahms’s creativity in the 1850s and ‘60s through a consideration of the composer’s engagement with German literature. Drawing on archival research conducted in Vienna, chapters one and two are devoted to an investigation of Brahms’s early notebooks of literary quotations known – since their abridged publication in 1909 – as Des jungen Kreislers Schatzkästlein. In addition to teasing out the aesthetic ideas articulated by the entries in Brahms’s collection, my investigation reveals the extent to which, in gathering entries, Brahms was following in Robert Schumann’s footsteps and actually repurposed many of his mentor’s previously-assembled literary treasures. An appendix provides a full transcription of the surviving Schatzkästlein source materials. The later chapters of the dissertation enlist Brahms’s beloved works of German Romantic literature in the examination of two compositions from the 1860s: the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Waldhorn, Op. 40, and the Magelone Romanzen, Op. 33. Following the lead of early critics, I explore these singular offerings in the fields of chamber music and song as innovative musical responses to themes and motifs central to the literature of German Romanticism.


Lucy Liu (Indiana University)
“Musical Prose and Modular Discourse in Select Works by Brahms”

This dissertation studies a specific type of Brahmsian “musical prose.” Schoenberg defines musical prose as “the direct and straightforward presentation of ideas, without any patchwork … and empty repetitions.” Current scholarship holds that developing variation is the primary way of generating musical prose. Yet a number of “prose”-like pieces by Brahms exhibit almost no developing variation. Instead, they employ what I call modular discourse, which does not rely on traditional motivic/thematic working-out to generate new content. Modular discourse presents incises that are not related by a common denominator, and a great number of them very quickly. To demonstrate modular procedures at local and higher formal levels, I analyze the slow movements of Symphonies nos. 1 and 2, the scherzo of Symphony no. 4, the C-major intermezzo of Op. 119, and the allegretto of Op. 135 by Beethoven. All the symphony and quartet movements are made up of multiple rotations. My goal is twofold: within a phrase, to pin down the logic of succession from one module to the next. This is necessary because, on the surface, there is no thread governing the modules’ progression, since each idea seems self-contained and does not call for particular continuations. On a larger scale, I trace the formal-functional recontextualization of modules in later rotations to explain a perceived paradox: given the lack of development of these modules—they often return verbatim or simply transposed—what factors are responsible for the changes in expressive meaning of later rotations? Even though the order by which modules appear is preserved from rotation to rotation, the causal logic usually guaranteed by rotational treatment is missing, leading to a defamiliarization of upcoming material at every turn.


Robin Wilson (University of Sydney)
“Style and Interpretation in the Nineteenth-Century German Violin School with Particular Reference to the Three Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin by Johannes Brahms”

From the mid nineteenth to early twentieth centuries the performance of Brahms’s music was intricately bound with the performance style of artists within his circle. In violin playing Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was the foremost exponent of the German violin school. The stylistic characteristics of this school, which included selective use of a pre-modern style of vibrato, prominent application of portamento, predominantly legato approach to bow strokes and the frequent and noticeable modification of tempo and rhythm, were considered indispensable expressive devices by Joachim, Brahms and others associated with this circle. While the use of such devices in the nineteenth century has been well documented in published research over the past 15 years or so, there is currently much contention about the extent to which such devices were employed. Importantly, in addition to written documentation and solo recordings, this thesis examines recordings of chamber ensembles—whose members had a connection to the German violin school and/or Brahms—that as yet have been little consulted as primary source evidence. Spectrogram analyses of many of these recordings provide definitive evidence of vibrato that was narrow in width, fast, and applied selectively. Other new evidence in my thesis strongly supports the hypothesis that portamento, tempo modification and rhythmic alteration were used to a much greater extent than today, and this significantly enhanced the rhetorical features in Brahms’s music. A detailed Performance Edition with Critical Notes about Brahms’s three Sonatas for Pianoforte and Violin Opp. 78, 100 and 108, applies the evidence elucidated throughout the thesis.


Katharina Uhde (Duke University)
”Joseph Joachim, Psychologische Musik, and the Search for a New Music Aesthetic”

Exploring two main lines of inquiry, this dissertation investigates the style and aesthetic of the music of Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) and its references to composers such as Brahms, Liszt, Schumann, and Beethoven. First, rather than simply accepting the image of Joachim as the great nineteenth-century violinist and collaborator of Johannes Brahms who advocated the “canonization of the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms,” I ask who Joachim was in light of his own compositions and literary circle. Especially significant was his “soul mate” Gisela von Arnim (daughter of Bettine von Arnim), from the second generation of two major literary “institutions” – the Grimm brothers and Arnim/Brentano, the Des Knaben Wunderhorn-collectors. Joachim and Gisela’s literary role-play throws light on her function as his inspiration and muse. Second, each chapter investigates Joachim’s works as “psychological music,” the term he himself applied. Given that psychology was not yet an established academic discipline in the 1850s, Joachim’s use of “psychological” is all the more intriguing.

Sources including archival letters, manuscripts, and Joachim’s published correspondence, as well as his compositions from (or begun) in the 1850s, reveal that “psychological music” was both a compositional approach and an aesthetic. Extensively using ciphers, anagrams, song quotations, literary titles and allusions, and occasionally v melodramatic elements, Joachim’s compositional aesthetic conflicted with his “absolute” aesthetic as a violinist in the later 19th century.

Joachim’s relatively strict use of form, his idiosyncratic use of “motivic transformation,” and his expressive studies of literary/historical characters in his overtures separated him from Liszt. Furthermore, while Joachim navigated harmony in ways criticized by Louis Spohr and contemporary critics as “ear-tearing harshness” (1852), the composer maintained an almost consistently symmetrical (“four-square”) syntax. Joachim’s “psychological” aesthetic was typified by idiosyncratic, individual stylistic features like “trapped motives,” captured by (sometimes obsessive) repetition, and he applied ciphers much more conspicuously than did Schumann. In the end, Joachim’s “psychological music” displays three overarching features: first, extramusical programs from autobiographical and/or literary contexts; second, the implicit or explicit dedication of the works to Gisela von Arnim; and third, supporting correspondence marking the work as an “outlet” for Joachim’s self-perceived, psychological inner turmoil.


Laurie McManus (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
“The Rhetoric of Sexuality in the Age of Brahms and Wagner”

As an enduring theme in nineteenth-century music history, the Brahms-Wagner debate often takes the problem of form as its main thesis: it has long been cast as the struggle of “absolute” versus “program” music. Recent musicology has focused on its intersections with nationalism and politics, historicism, and the nascent fields of music history and theory. Broadening the scope of critical discourse we study, I have examined the debate through the lens of certain sexual rhetoric employed in music criticism, such as Wagnerian attacks on the “chaste” Brahms, or the accusations of “wanton lust” in Wagner. By incorporating documents that relate music explicitly to sexuality, gender roles, and notions of the body, I argue that we reassess the debate as a fundamental struggle between sensuality (Sinnlichkeit) and purity (Reinheit) in music. This global approach extends the debate beyond traditional generic boundaries and modes of scholarly inquiry, and contextualizes it against cultural ideas of sexuality, purity, and the women’s emancipation movement.


Jacquelyn Sholes (Brandeis University)
“‘Transcendence,’ ‘Loss,’ and ‘Reminiscence’: Brahms’s Early Finales in the Contexts of Form, Narrative, and Historicism”

This dissertation is the first systematic exploration of the rhetorical character and function of the finale in the music of Brahms. Conceived as groundwork for a broader chronological view of Brahms’s approach to final movements, my study examines the surviving multi-movement instrumental works completed through 1860: the piano sonatas, opp. 1, 2, and 5; the B-major trio, op. 8; the serenades, opp. 11 and 16; the d-minor piano concerto, op. 15; and the B-flat major sextet, op. 18. The dissertation aims to answer three interrelated questions: 1) in each work, what are the finale’s distinctive musical features and dramatic qualities?; 2) how does the finale function, musically and dramatically, within the broader context of the work?; and 3) in evaluating each finale’s contents and rhetorical function, what, if any, is the possible significance of the work’s place in Brahms’s life and oeuvre and of the young composer’s developing view of his own historical position?

Close analysis suggests that the early finales reflect a preoccupation not only with the concept of “transcendence,” but also, frequently, with “loss” and “distorted reminiscence,” expressed primarily through Brahms’s handling of large-scale thematic and harmonic structures. Although scholars have consistently emphasized Brahms’s acute historical consciousness and have identified apparent thematic allusions to earlier composers in most of his works, historical references are generally treated as if their relevance is limited to particular passages or individual movements. At least in several of the early works, however, allusions seem to resonate musically and dramatically with material in other movements in ways that have not been realized, suggesting significant relationships between form, inter-movement narrative, and historical reference that have yet to be sufficiently appreciated.


Daniel Stevens (University of Michigan)
“Brahms’s Song Collections: Rethinking a Genre”

By theorizing the role of genre in Brahms’s song collections, this dissertation explores what the composer’s alluring description of these collections as “Liedersträuße” (“song-bouquets”) might imply for their analysis and interpretation as music-textual wholes. Opp. 57, 85, and 70 form the basis of three analytical chapters that demonstrate the variety of unifying textual and musical aspects found in these collections. In each case, apparent unities are resisted by other elements of music and text, thereby suggesting an ironic conception of the song-bouquet while calling into question the generic identity of these collections as larger wholes.

Brahms’s singular approach to the nineteenth-century song collection thus invites a renewed interest in the problem of musical genre. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, this dissertation advances common notions of musical genre in order to articulate the new modes of relating text and music found in Brahms’s collections, not just within a song but between them. Considering genre as a historically constructed social category, I argue that these collections project a historical consciousness typical of late Romantic thought. In doing so, Brahms’s song-bouquets may be productively interpreted as a critique both of earlier genres such as the song cycle and of the Romantic ideologies that have structured the creation and reception of those genres.


Paul E. Berry (Yale University)
“Memory, Inspiration, and Compositional Process in the Solo Songs of Johannes Brahms”

Throughout his career, Brahms composed works in the intimate genre of the solo song and shared those works with close friends. This dissertation interprets selected songs as products of inextricably linked musical decision making and personal deliberation, recreating plausible paths for Brahms’s compositional thought and its connections to his personal relationships based on the music and documents he left behind.
Scholars have long suggested connections between compositional activity and biography in Brahms’s music, but it has proven difficult to relate particular musical choices to specific aspects of his social existence. A possible solution involves new emphasis on the link between Brahms’s memory and his conscious compositional decision making. Musical evidence of his recollections remains in allusive gestures and other forms of deliberate musical borrowing. Correspondence, diaries, published recollections, autograph manuscripts, and surviving materials from the composer’s library preserve further clues as to the connotations of remembered music among members of Brahms’s circle, for whom his latest songs were often available in manuscript before publication. Identifying borrowings from previous works and exploring what those works meant to the composer and his closest friends permits investigation of what might have motivated their reappearance in a new musical and interpersonal context.

Three introductory chapters lay necessary groundwork by describing how the experience of vocal chamber music maintained and deepened interpersonal relationships within Brahms’s circle. Case studies then address five clusters of solo songs, tracing connections between Brahms’s compositional process and the private significance of borrowed music, and examining the role of performance in his friends’ apprehension of his works. Taken together, the case studies map a series of independent but fundamentally similar moments when combined recollections of old music and past personal experience became a source of new inspiration, yielding a set of plausible scenarios that describe Brahms in the act of composing. These scenarios bring us nearer to one of the central goals of Brahms studies by facilitating a deepened understanding of how his music was made and how it was meant to function for its initial audiences.


Brent Auerbach (Eastman School of Music)
“The Analytical Grundgestalt: A New Model and Methodology Based on the Music of Johannes Brahms”

The monumental influence of Brahms on the development of Arnold Schoenberg as theorist and composer is well known. As such, analysts in the past have gained much insight into Brahms’s works by redirecting Schoenberg’s theories – notable among them the principle of developing variation – back upon them. My dissertation falls in line with such work, focusing on the structural role of Schoenberg’s Grundgestalt, a multivalent structure that encodes a work’s total motivic, thematic, harmonic, rhythmic, and textural content.

The dissertation advances a new model of the Grundgestalt as well as a new methodology for analysis, one wherein rules are fashioned in response to previous analytical conventions and are based exclusively on Brahms’s music. The main advances over earlier views of the Grundgestalt include requiring the structure to occur as a polyphonic complex and allowing it to occur at any point within a piece (instead of only at the beginning). The first of these new conventions enhances the Grundgestalt’s ability to reveal a work’s organicism. The second, entailing a reconception of the Grundgestalt as the head of a hierarchy radiating down to local Gestalten and smaller musical segments, allows for multiple narrative analyses of a single piece. Detailed analyses of a number of works by Brahms in contrasting genres – a Capriccio and Intermezzo (op. 76, nos. 5-6), the song “Mädchenlied” (op. 107, no. 5), and the Adagio movement of the Second Symphony – confirm the validity of this approach.


George Papadopoulos (University of Washington)
“Johannes Brahms and Nineteenth-Century Comic Ideology”

This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the comic categories—humor, wit, irony, parody—in the music of Brahms, providing also a thorough examination of his personal relationship to the Romantic comic. Central to my study is the notion that humor in nineteenth-century music is different from eighteenth-century models, in that it gradually shifts from the amiable expression of generic gestural incongruities to an individualized manifestation of the composer’s inner world. The artist’s immersion in the terrors of nature and absurdities of life is reflected in music through a dialectical opposition of the tragic norm and its humorous release. As a result, humor assumes the qualities of comic relief in great tragedy and affords the listener a unique psychological perspective.

The two opening chapters survey the literature and present the philosophical and aesthetic backgrounds. Chapter three offers a psychograph of Brahms’s comic temperament and illuminates the social, personal, and artistic contexts for the manifestation of his biting wit. The fourth chapter examines Brahms’s comic literary sympathies by studying the relevant books from his library. Chapter five provides a typology of comic musical devices in his music, and suggests—through detailed analyses of several humor-related pieces by Brahms—a number of affective topoi that seem to attract his comic treatment. Each of the final two chapters contains a large-scale study of an orchestral work—the Academic Festival Overture and the Scherzo from the Fourth Symphony—in which close readings of the music’s humorous potential alternate with discussion of the wider cultural milieu surrounding composition, performance, and reception.


Ryan Mark Minor (University of Chicago)
“National Memory, Public Music: Commemoration and Consecration in Nineteenth-Century Choral Works”

My dissertation is an exploration of nineteenth-century German choral works written for public festivity. In particular I focus on the use of the chorus for commemorations and consecrations–festivities whose respective organization around memory and communal hope provided ample opportunity to employ the chorus’s ties to both the musical past and a utopian future. Drawing on close musical analysis, standard musicological literature (source studies, biography, reception), and recent work in cultural history and German studies, my dissertation aims to provide an overdue account of ways the chorus was employed in nineteenth-century German festivity as well as the place of this festive tradition within the choral music itself. In addition to numerous works by unknown composers, I focus on Mendelssohn’s music for Dürer and Gutenberg celebrations, Liszt’s two “Beethoven” cantatas, Brahms’s Triumphlied and Fest- und Gedenksprüche, and Wagner’s Parsifal.


Kevin C. Karnes (Brandeis University)
“The Early Analytical, Aesthetic, and Critical Writings of Heinrich Schenker. With Special Consideration of His Understanding of Brahms, and of the Development of His Work through Harmony”

Although there has recently been a significant rise of interest in late nineteenth-century music criticism, the early essays of Heinrich Schenker, one of the most prominent Viennese music journalists, have previously received little scholarly attention. In this dissertation, Karnes examines Schenker’s critical writings—100 essays and reviews published between 1891 and 1898 in five journals—for the insight they provide about both the early stages of Schenker’s thinking and the critical culture of Vienna and surrounding cities during this period. He argues that Schenker’s critical writings are especially valuable for our understanding of late nineteenth-century criticism in that they introduce us to several forms of journalistic reporting, including the analytical review and the biographical portrait, that have previously been overlooked in studies of the subject. Such essays, he suggests, in turn encourage us to examine the ways in which critics drew upon a wide array of ideas discussed and debated by figures active in a number of other branches of the intellectual discourse on music, including analysis, philosophical aesthetics, and the study of music history. In order to illustrate this point, he describes how Schenker makes use of analytical means to defend the effectiveness of Brahms’s vocal music; how his discussions of both musical coherence and the creative process draw upon the ideas of Eduard Hanslick, Friedrich von Hausegger, and other important nineteenth-century writers on music aesthetics; and how his biographical studies confront some of the same methodological problems debated by Guido Adler and other pioneering music historians. He concludes by arguing that Schenker’s early writings introduce us to the previously unacknowledged intellectual richness of the critical discourse in this time and place, and by suggesting that a detailed examination of the work of his many neglected peers may likewise enhance our understanding of this field


Thomas Quigley (Joe Fortes Branch Library, Vancouver, British Columbia)
Johannes Brahms: An Annotated Bibliography

Departing from its usual guidelines for this scholarship the Board of the American Brahms Society felt that special recognition was due to Mr. Quigley for his important service to our field. This special award was made on the occasion of the publication of the second volume of his Brahms biography (Scarecrow Press, 1998). It is the Board’s hope that these funds will assist Mr. Quigley with the research for the next volume of his bibliographic series on Brahms.


Antonius Bittmann (Eastman School of Music)
“Brahms, Wagner, and Competing Modernisms: Max Reger’s Tortuous Path”

Mr. Bittmann’s dissertation shows that the current–and none-too-flattering– Image of Reger derives from the battles waged by critics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, battles In which Brahms’s music played a crucial role. To quote from the first chapter of his study: “the polar circle around which Reger reception revolves Is Reger’s dependence on Brahms.” Drawing on his research at the Max Reger Institute In Karlsruhe, Mr. Bittmann paints a fascinating and nuanced portrait of the complex ways In which the reception of Reger’s music was Intertwined with critical views of Brahms, especially between roughly 1920 and 1940. Mr. Bittmann convincingly shows that this pairing did not always work to Reger’s advantage, leading as It did to current perceptions of a “poor man’s Brahms.” Just as much of the most stimulating Brahms research of the recent past has demonstrated that Brahms was not as “absolute” a composer as we once thought, so Mr. Bittmann argues that Reger was considerably more than a vessel for a supposedly “absolute” Instrumental style Inherited from Brahms. All In all Mr. Bittmann’s Work will be of considerable value to students of Reger, Wagner–and of course, Brahms.


Dillon Parmer (Eastman School of Music)
“Brahms the Programmatic”

My work begins with a critical evaluation of the aesthetic and ideological frameworks underpinning recent proposals that Brahms’s music is rather less abstract than previously thought. Through a careful reading of key texts from the era of neo-romanticism, I argue that program music is a type of absolute music in which composers attempt to control or direct understanding of a work by prescribing some extra-musical object (such as a novel or painting) for the listener to take into account during an audition of the composition in question. I evaluate the extent to which such interpretive control can be inferred in Brahms’s compositional output, focusing on four different classes of works: those for which Brahms himself provided suggestive titles or poetic prefaces (e.g., certain movements from the piano sonatas), those using symbolic motifs (e.g., Schumann’s “Clara cipher”), those alluding to songs or other vocal-based music (such as the “Regenlied” Sonata, Op. 78), and those which, as Brahms allowed privately to friends, are associated with some external text (such as the “Werther” Quartet, Op. 60).
Although the picture of “Brahms the Progressive” that emerges from this examination derives from only a small portion of his œuvre, the composer’s contribution to the history of the genre is much more substantial than is generally believed. A study of this contribution within the framework of newly proposed definitions of absolute and program music yields an account of his music that could have repercussions in the wider musical and philosophical contexts in which these categories continue to circulate.


Daniel Beller-McKenna (Harvard University)
“Brahms’s Settings of Biblical Texts between 1877 and 1896”

Focusing my attention on the motet “Warum?” Op. 74 No. 1, the three Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op. 109, the motet “Ich aber bin elend,” Op. 110 No. 1, and the Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121, I will interpret these works within the context of major historical events and cultural phenomena of the later nineteenth century: the new German State, pan-Germanism in Austria, and the rise of pessimistic philosophy and conservative politics. Given the importance of the Lutheran Bible as a historical and cultural icon for German Romantics, my study of each setting will treat a particular aspect of the Bible’s role in Romanticism and post-Romanticism: Individualism in Op. 74, Nationalism in Op. 109, Historicism in Op. 110, and Pessimism in Op. 121.


Margaret Notley (Yale University)
“Brahms’s Chamber Music—Summer of 1886: A Study of Opera 99, 100, 101, and 108”

Reviewers welcomed the change in style they perceived in the Cello Sonata in F major, the Piano Trio in C minor, and the Violin Sonatas in A major and D minor. And since critics of the day tended to view art single mindedly as a reflection of the artist’s personality, they linked this more accessible, “popular” style to a newly won serenity in Brahms himself. Ironically, the pieces were composed against a backdrop of general crisis in Vienna in which all that Brahms held valuable—in music and otherwise—was under attack.
The most immediate context for the composition of the works was formed from Brahms’s experiences in the summer of 1883, when he spent a considerable amount of time playing sonatas for violin and piano with Rudolf von Beckerath. The repeated collaborations of the two friends on this relatively humble part of the repertoire might well have stimulated the new spare style that was to emerge a few years later, and which to contemporaneous listeners sounded more natural, less contrived than Brahms’s earlier styles. At all events, these works clearly show, to borrow Tovey’s phrase, a renewed “reaction towards” the Classical style.
There were two broad aspects to Brahms’s creative activity in the productive summer of 1886: the probable composition of three movements of the Cello Sonata in F major around a pre-existing slow movement, and the reinterpretation of discrete facets of Classical style in all but one of the movements in the other three works. A number of connections between different pairs of movements suggest that the four works were conceived as a comprehensive compositional project.


Heather Platt (Graduate Center, City University of New York)
“Text-Music Relationships in the Lieder of Johannes Brahms

In the nineteenth-century Lied, more than in any other genre, the relationship between text and music is paramount. Although Gustav Jenner recalled that Brahms himself emphasized the importance of depicting the text, it is only recently that analysts have begun to examine the relationship between the texts and the tonal and motivic structures of his songs. My study is the first to consider the extent to which the text penetrates to the deeper structural levels. Through an analysis of tonal structure and its coordination with motivic and rhythmic events, I show that Brahms responded to both the structure and the meaning of his poems, often creating a profoundly sympathetic interpretation of the text’s protagonist.