Brahms - without influence?

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Charles
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Brahms - without influence?

Post by Charles » Tue Apr 10, 2007 10:44 pm

It is a truism in music criticism that Wagner, the opera composer,
signally influenced the subsequent development of the symphony and
modern music in general, while Brahms the great symphonist ironically
had no followers. Partly this observation rests on Brahms' conservative avoidance of polytonality and Wagner's embrace of it in Tristan, setting the
direction of modern music.Yet I wonder whether Brahms' irrelevance is
true when I hear the jagged lines in his music. He seems many times to
stubbornly use the simplest, almost irritating non-melodies as the basis for his great themes. A zig-zag line of notes, virtually a throwaway, repeated with a slight variation becomes the cornerstone of a great movement, but these short themes bear little relation to the melodies of Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Taken by themselves, the themes, sometimes marked by very percussive writing for the piano, often sound more like proto-Schostakovich than Romantic music. Brahms, the great melodist, no doubt took pride in being able to erect structures of great emotion and beauty from these fragments in his symphonies. But in his chamber music the existential jaggedness sometimes persists throughout a movement, giving the impression of expressionism, cubism or abstraction, not of Romanticism, For a good example of this, listen to
the thrird movement of the great piano quintet. After its hammering,
almost jazz-like course, notice how abruptly it ends.

In view of a movement like this one and many others, I wonder whether
Brahms didn't have offspring in the jagged polytonal and atonal
melodists of the 20th century?

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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:10 pm

I first learned that Brahms had a place on the thrones of the gods on Mount Olympus from one of my college professors, and though I have been severely criticized for not growing out of it, nothing has happened in more than 30 years to change my mind. If anything, I am more firmly convinced of it than ever.

In the first place, as a matter of simple fact, it is a mistake to believe that Brahms is questionable for his influence on subsequent music, vis-a-vis Wagner or not. Every important composer after him realized that he was the shadow hanging over him the way Beethoven was the shadow haning over Brahms himself. This surely goes for both Strauss and Mahler, both of whom knew Brahms, and goes double for Schoenberg, who went to the most extraordinary lengths to define himself as an important composer when it seemed to him, as he himself admitted, that Brahms could easily be interpreted with a sense of resignation as the last word in great Western classical music. I don't believe that music literally died with Brahms in 1897, but more ridiculous exaggerations have been made.

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Re: Brahms - without influence?

Post by John F » Wed Apr 11, 2007 1:06 am

Charles wrote:II wonder whether Brahms didn't have offspring in the jagged polytonal and atonal melodists of the 20th century?
You're actually on to something. Arnold Schoenberg wrote a famous essay, "Brahms the Progressive," in which he argued that Brahms's music is not just backward-looking but forward-looking too, and that he was "a great innovator in the realm of musical language." For more of what Schoenberg meant by "progressive," see the article by Robert Markow at http://www.scena.org/lsm/sm8-1/Brahms-en.html.

Schoenberg wanted to define himself as coming within the mainstream of music, and his innovations as the inevitable consequence of where music stood at the turn of the century (after Wagner and, of course, Brahms). This was not an easy view to sell, and of course jbuck919 is far from the only one who hasn't bought it. Schoenberg claimed that the "emancipation of the dissonance" was historically necessary, and disarmingly (or perhaps disingenuously) said that it merely happened to be him who did it. So there may be some special pleading in his Brahms essay. But I don't think it's dishonest, and it does shed an unexpected and interesting light on both Brahms and Schoenberg, for those who take the conventional view of both composers--Brahms as rockbound conservative, Schoenberg as wild-eyed revolutionary.

There's also an article by Charles Rosen, "Brahms the Subversive," with examples of harmonic moves that he says subvert traditional practice. "Although Brahms is still dealing with almost all the traditional elements of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century music, he tends to play with them, to manipulate them, dislocating their traditional relationships with each other and setting them off one against the other for purposes that no composer before him had ever envisaged. Brahms is both subverting the Classical tradition and at the same time exploiting it with a learning greater than that of any of his contemporaries." (in "Critical Entertainments," Harvard U.P., 2000).
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Post by RebLem » Wed Apr 11, 2007 2:48 am

Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
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Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Apr 11, 2007 4:48 am

RebLem wrote:Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
---------------

I too detect Brahms' influence on Dvorak's music. Without going into detail, both Brahms and Dvorak are among my most favourtie composers.

As for Mahler, he may have held Brahms in great esteem but according
to a letter written by Alma Mahler to her daughter in England, Brahms
held no such sentiments toward Mahler's music. According to this letter, Brahms detested Mahler's music. This letter can be found in the Werfel/Mahler collection at the University of Pennsylvania music archives.
--------------------

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Apr 11, 2007 5:55 am

Agnes Selby wrote:
RebLem wrote:Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
---------------

I too detect Brahms' influence on Dvorak's music. Without going into detail, both Brahms and Dvorak are among my most favourtie composers.

As for Mahler, he may have held Brahms in great esteem but according
to a letter written by Alma Mahler to her daughter in England, Brahms
held no such sentiments toward Mahler's music. According to this letter, Brahms detested Mahler's music. This letter can be found in the Werfel/Mahler collection at the University of Pennsylvania music archives.
--------------------
There are more musical figures (Wolf would be another) who claimed to detest Brahms than claimed to detest Wagner. I'm not on completely solid ground here, but I have always assumed that someone at the level of Mahler whose music in spite of what he might have wished owes everything it does not owe to Wagner, to Brahms instead, was being disingenuous, and in fact, attempting to cover up his own paucity of original ideas.

One of the reasons it was easy to dump on Brahms was that he was merely a grumpy old man. Wagner liked being a serious enemy, and had a following.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Charles
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Re: Brahms - without influence?

Post by Charles » Wed Apr 11, 2007 7:42 am

John F wrote:
Charles wrote:II wonder whether Brahms didn't have offspring in the jagged polytonal and atonal melodists of the 20th century?
You're actually on to something. Arnold Schoenberg wrote a famous essay, "Brahms the Progressive," in which he argued that Brahms's music is not just backward-looking but forward-looking too, and that he was "a great innovator in the realm of musical language." For more of what Schoenberg meant by "progressive," see the article by Robert Markow at http://www.scena.org/lsm/sm8-1/Brahms-en.html.

Schoenberg wanted to define himself as coming within the mainstream of music, and his innovations as the inevitable consequence of where music stood at the turn of the century (after Wagner and, of course, Brahms). This was not an easy view to sell, and of course jbuck919 is far from the only one who hasn't bought it. Schoenberg claimed that the "emancipation of the dissonance" was historically necessary, and disarmingly (or perhaps disingenuously) said that it merely happened to be him who did it. So there may be some special pleading in his Brahms essay. But I don't think it's dishonest, and it does shed an unexpected and interesting light on both Brahms and Schoenberg, for those who take the conventional view of both composers--Brahms as rockbound conservative, Schoenberg as wild-eyed revolutionary.

There's also an article by Charles Rosen, "Brahms the Subversive," with examples of harmonic moves that he says subvert traditional practice. "Although Brahms is still dealing with almost all the traditional elements of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century music, he tends to play with them, to manipulate them, dislocating their traditional relationships with each other and setting them off one against the other for purposes that no composer before him had ever envisaged. Brahms is both subverting the Classical tradition and at the same time exploiting it with a learning greater than that of any of his contemporaries." (in "Critical Entertainments," Harvard U.P., 2000).
Interesting article (the link) and quote. Thank you. I guess Brahms did have some 20th c. progeny after all, as I had speculated. Both Schoenberg and Rosen put into words far better than I the qualities that make Brahms anything but a reactionary content to function solely within the strictures of the past.

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Post by Charles » Wed Apr 11, 2007 7:45 am

RebLem wrote:Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
I will look up your comment on Foote. As for Dvorak, of course Brahms influenced him greatly, but they are more or less contemporaries, both late Romantics. I could possibly have been clearer in stating that I was referring to Brahms' influence on the next, succeeding generation. I think I'm accurate in saying that most conventional criticism incorrectly sees him as sterile in that regard.

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Apr 11, 2007 7:56 am

Charles wrote:I will look up your comment on Foote.
Yes, please do so and send us a Footenote. :) (I have never heard of this person.)
As for Dvorak, of course Brahms influenced him greatly, but they are more or less contemporaries, both late Romantics. I could possibly have been clearer in stating that I was referring to Brahms' influence on the next, succeeding generation. I think I'm accurate in saying that most conventional criticism incorrectly sees him as sterile in that regard.
Dvorak worshipped Brahms in the measure that Tchaikovsky cordially detested him. It does show, doesn't it?

I think you may feel yourself free to ignore what you are finding to be "most conventional criticism." The issue has beenplain and unarguable in any reasonable fashion since the famous essay by Schoenberg.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Febnyc » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:16 am

In addition to Dvorak, another composer to mention in this context is Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900). His dates are almost contemporaneous with Dvorak's, incidentally.

Besides being influenced by Brahms, Herzogenberg married one of Brahms' pupils and subsequently there was an extensive and interesting correspondence between the two composers.

A lot of Herzogenberg's music now has been released on the cpo label. Most recently a disc of two symphonies - it's on my shelf but I haven't listened yet. Up to this point I've enjoyed the chamber works which, in the most part, have the mellow, burnished sound of Brahms.

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Post by Febnyc » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:23 am

jbuck919 wrote: Yes, please do so and send us a Footenote.
Arthur Foote wrote some of the most appealing chamber works of any 20th Century American composer. The Piano Quartet and, especially, the Piano Quintet are glorious. It's easy (and inexpensive) to give them a try since Naxos has recorded both (and other Footes - should that be "Feete?" - as well).

Seriously, these are worthy of the attention of anyone interested in chamber music.

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:38 am

Lots of relatively forgotten composers owe a lot to Brahms. One of them is Donald Francis Tovey, the great commentator on music. I was told a long time ago that he wrote very Brahmsian works which the person reporting it, as great an appreciator of music as I have ever personally known, did not recommend bothering to listen to a second time. Ironically, the first time I encountered a recording of Tovey (and saw his picture) was when I happened to be in the late lamented Tower at Lincoln Center with Ralph last summer. I didn't buy it--sometimes in a very untypically American fashion I trust other peoples' judgments and don't feel I have to learn everything anew for myself.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by RebLem » Wed Apr 11, 2007 12:55 pm

Agnes Selby wrote:
RebLem wrote:Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
I too detect Brahms' influence on Dvorak's music. Without going into detail, both Brahms and Dvorak are among my most favourtie composers.
From the Wikipedia article on Dvorak:

At about this time[1873] Dvořák began to be recognized as a significant composer. He became organist at St. Adalbert's Church, Prague, and began a period of prolific composition. Dvořák composed his second string quintet in 1875, and in 1877, the critic Eduard Hanslick informed him that his music had attracted the attention of Johannes Brahms, whom he later befriended. Brahms contacted the musical publisher Simrock, who as a result commissioned Dvořák's Slavonic Dances. Published in 1878, these were an immediate success.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton%C3%A ... %99%C3%A1k


It is also worth noting that Dvorak's first 4 symphonies have a Wagnerian influence, whereas the last 5 were much more in a Brahmsian idiom. The 4th is from 1874, the 5th from 1875. Something else I find curious: Simrock and Dvorak apparently fought over how his name was to be spelled on the sheet music. Simrock wanted to Germanize it and print it as "Anton." Dvorak, a proud Bohemian, was adamant that he wanted it spelled "Antonin." They finally compromised on the abbreviation "Ant."

And here is what I wrote about Arthur Foote:

11. 10/10 Foote, Arthur (1853-1937): Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 38 (23:33) |String Quartet #2 in E Major, Op. 32 (26:49) |String Quartet #3 in D Major, Op. 70 (25:15)—Da Vinci Quartet, James Barbagallo, piano—NAXOS CD (see next entry for more info.)

12. 10/10 Foote: Piano Trio 1 in C Minor, Op. 5 (31:48 ) |Piano Trio 2 in B Flat Major (1908 ) (20:55) |Melody for violin & piano, Op 44 (4:52) |Ballade for violin & piano, Op. 69 (8:18 )—Arden Trio—NAXOS CD.
Arthur Foote was an American composer, born in Salem, Massachussets to Caleb Foote, who had been an orphan at a young age, but made a fine life for himself, starting out as an apprentice at a local newspaper, later becoming its editor and co-owner, active in school affairs and his church, and getting elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Arthur studied at Harvard with John Knowles Paine, among others, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1874; in 1875, he became the first American to be awarded a Master of Arts in Music degree from Harvard or any American college or university.

Despite the fact that he was thoroughly American, however, his music is firmly rooted in the middle European, mid-Romantic idiom of Schumann, Brahms, and Dvorak, with just a dash of Wagner thrown in. In form and style, these works are thoroughly derivative, but he is no pale imitation, like, say, Bruch or Goldmark, of the real masters. His familiarity with sonata form is thorough, and his musical arguments are rigorous, complex, sophisticated, and often beautiful. He is a composer well worth anyone’s getting to know.

Also, Agnes, you might still want to check that April 7 listening thread. I mentioned you in a report on the Mackerras/Sydney Sym recording of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis. :)
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Post by anasazi » Thu Apr 12, 2007 2:27 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Agnes Selby wrote:
RebLem wrote:Brahms had a great influence on Dvorak, and on the American composer Arthur Foote. For more information on the latter, see me listening report for the week ending April 7, 2007 in the "What are you listening to" thread.
---------------

I too detect Brahms' influence on Dvorak's music. Without going into detail, both Brahms and Dvorak are among my most favourtie composers.

As for Mahler, he may have held Brahms in great esteem but according
to a letter written by Alma Mahler to her daughter in England, Brahms
held no such sentiments toward Mahler's music. According to this letter, Brahms detested Mahler's music. This letter can be found in the Werfel/Mahler collection at the University of Pennsylvania music archives.
--------------------
There are more musical figures (Wolf would be another) who claimed to detest Brahms than claimed to detest Wagner. I'm not on completely solid ground here, but I have always assumed that someone at the level of Mahler whose music in spite of what he might have wished owes everything it does not owe to Wagner, to Brahms instead, was being disingenuous, and in fact, attempting to cover up his own paucity of original ideas.

One of the reasons it was easy to dump on Brahms was that he was merely a grumpy old man. Wagner liked being a serious enemy, and had a following.
Well, but there WAS Edward Hanslick. The famous music critic in Vienna at the time. He was fond of Brahms and not so fond of Wagner. He came close to destroying Bruckner's career, so he was no - well the word I used here was edited out, but it was not profane, although I can understand why the web editor did it, so instead of three *** I will substitute: "teddy bear". Hope this works.
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Post by val » Thu Apr 12, 2007 4:20 am

Brahms had a strong influence not only on Schönberg, but also in Webern. If we read what Webern said about how to play his Variations opus 27 he says that they should be played like a Brahms Intermezzo. And, in fact, the first part of the work, reminds me the style and even the structure of some of Brahms late piano pieces, where frequently all thematic material is generated from an initial motive.

And we must not forget Brahms influence on Reger, Hindemith and, as strange as it seems, on Hugo Wof, that deeply loved Brahm's Lieder.

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Post by diegobueno » Fri Apr 13, 2007 10:05 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Lots of relatively forgotten composers owe a lot to Brahms. One of them is Donald Francis Tovey, the great commentator on music. I was told a long time ago that he wrote very Brahmsian works which the person reporting it, as great an appreciator of music as I have ever personally known, did not recommend bothering to listen to a second time. Ironically, the first time I encountered a recording of Tovey (and saw his picture) was when I happened to be in the late lamented Tower at Lincoln Center with Ralph last summer. I didn't buy it--sometimes in a very untypically American fashion I trust other peoples' judgments and don't feel I have to learn everything anew for myself.
In general my response to this would be "get off your lazy duff and listen to it yourself", but this time I think you can safely take your friend's word. I am familiar with a Trio in C minor for clarinet, horn and piano by Tovey. It sounds just like Brahms, except 10 times thicker in texture, and that's saying something! The piece is not without its merits, but considering the difficulty of putting it all together, ones efforts would be better placed elsewhere.
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