The Rise and Fall of Brahms the German


Johannes Brahms's reputation during the years between his death in 1897 and the end of World War II in 1945 has received little attention in Brahms‐reception studies. The Brahms portrayed at that time was a distinctly German artist whose conservative style was comforting during a socially (and artistically) turbulent period. That image of Brahms is unfamiliar to our modern idea of the composer, shaped as it is by Arnold Schoenberg's 1947 essay “Brahms the Progressive.” Schoenberg painted Brahms as a harbinger of modernism whose flexible phrase structure and supple use of forward‐looking harmony led to the emancipation of the dissonance and the free prose style of the early twentieth century. Later Brahms scholars have read Schoenberg's essay largely as a self‐serving attempt to legitimize his own atonal language by ascribing some of its principles to a revered master. Yet, when Schoenberg first delivered his remarks as a radio address in 1933, he was also attempting to overturn several decades of increasingly reactionary readings of Brahms, whereby German writers had championed Brahms as a bulwark against a decadent modernism that was perceived to be driven by foreign elements. This essay examines some of the best‐known German writers on Brahms from the first half of the twentieth century (Walther Niemann, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Schoenberg, Karl Geiringer, and others) and traces an increasingly nationalistic and at times even racist trend in Brahms reception. Finally, the uneasy attempts after World War to deal with Brahms's German legacy are briefly assayed.



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Journal of Musicological Research


Taylor & Francis

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