Chapter 28. Late Romanticism in Germany and Austria

Chapter Outline



During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Western musical world diversified as the audience for music broadened and became more segmented. Increasing interest in music of the past was balanced by the emergence of new styles of concert music, and a growing seriousness in the concert hall and new forms of entertainment music widened the gulf between classical and popular music. We will focus in this chapter on the classical tradition in Germany, examining how a debate between partisans of Johannes Brahms and of Richard Wagner crystallized divisions within German music. The following chapter treats national traditions in France and eastern and northern Europe and explores the division into classical and popular streams primarily through musical life in the United States. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Variety of Music in the Later Nineteenth Century
    1. Old versus new music
      1. Prior to the nineteenth century, most music performed outside of church was composed within living memory.
      2. By 1850, a basic repertory of musical classics had been created.
      3. The new field of musicology formalized the study of music of the past.
        1. Complete works of composers such as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin were published.
        2. Since Germans did much of the scholarly work, composers from Germany became the primary focus.
        3. Little-known works of the Renaissance and Baroque were collected and published in a number of sets and monuments.
      4. As a result, performers and audiences had both old and new works available to them.
    2. Brahms versus Wagner
      1. Brahms sought to create works within the Classical traditions.
      2. Wagner and Liszt saw the legacy of Beethoven pointing toward new genres and musical approaches.
      3. These divergent views polarized around Brahms and Wagner.
      4. Composers debated the relative merits of:
        1. Absolute and program music
        2. Tradition and innovation
        3. Classical genres and forms and new ones
      5. Both sides linked themselves to Beethoven.
      6. The music from both sides was known as classical music, since it was intended for performance alongside the Classical repertory.
    3. Nationalism versus internationalism
      1. The Classical repertory was performed throughout Europe and the Americas.
      2. Many composers turned to nationalism, not to break with traditions but to add a distinctive new flavor.
      3. In nations like Russia and the United States, composers were split between nationalists and internationalists.
    4. Classical versus popular music
      1. A gulf between classical and popular music grew in instrumental music, song, and choral music.
      2. Earlier composers, like Beethoven, could write both serious and light music.
      3. In the late nineteenth century, composers specialized in one or the other.
      4. Johann Strauss the younger, the “Waltz King,” was a master of popular dance music (see HWM Figure 28.1).
      5. The difference between a serious symphony and a popular song is much greater today than it was in Mozart’s time.
  2. Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) (see HWM biography, page 719, and Figure 28.2)
    1. Brahms combined Classicism with Romantic sensibility.
      1. Brahms matured as a composer just as the Classical repertoire became dominant.
      2. He composed in Classical traditions but added new elements in order to appeal to contemporary audiences.
      3. He studied the music from the Renaissance and Baroque, and incorporated elements from these traditions into his works.
      4. He wrote in virtually all of the musical languages of his time.
    2. Biography
      1. Born in Hamburg, Germany, he studied several musical instruments.
      2. He earned money playing at taverns and restaurants, where he became fond of the Hungarian-Gypsy style of music.
      3. Brahms performed as a pianist and directed several musical organizations.
      4. He edited music by numerous Baroque, Classic, and Romantic composers.
      5. Clara Schumann.
        1. In 1853, he met Robert and Clara Schumann and violinist Joseph Joachim, who became his strongest supporters.
        2. Brahms helped take care of the Schumann family so that Clara could resume her career.
        3. Brahms loved Clara, but remained a bachelor throughout his life.
        4. He died less than one year after Clara passed away.
  3. Brahms’s Symphonies
    1. Knowing that any symphony would have to match the standards Beethoven set, Brahms wrote his four symphonies after the age of forty.
      1. Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 (1876) was completed after twenty years of work.
      2. Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (1877)
      3. Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 (1883)
      4. Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 (1885)
    2. Symphony No. 1 is indebted to Beethoven, but also departs from past traditions.
      1. It has a standard four-movement format, although the third movement is a lyrical intermezzo instead of a scherzo.
      2. Like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, it begins in C minor and ends in a triumphant C major.
      3. The overall key scheme often moves through the circle of thirds.
      4. The material in the slow introductions of the first and fourth movements is developed in the allegros, recalling Schumann’s Symphony No. 4.
      5. The hymnlike theme of the finale is similar in mood to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
      6. Conductor Hans von B�low called this work “Beethoven’s Tenth.”
    3. Symphony No. 3
      1. The opening measures illustrate several typical characteristics of Brahms’s music (see HWM Example 28.1).
        1. Wide melodic spans
        2. Cross-relations between major and minor
        3. Metric ambiguity between duple and triple meters
      2. The second theme of the final movement contains a metric conflict between duple and triple meter (see HWM Example 28.2).
    4. Symphony No. 4, finale (see HWM Figure 28.3 and NAWM 132)
      1. The finale is a chaconne or passacaglia, a Baroque form consisting of variations over a repeating bass in triple meter.
        1. The key of E minor recalls Buxtehude’s Ciaccona in E Minor for organ.
        2. The idea of recurring thematic material may be derived from a work by Fran�ois Couperin that Brahms edited for the Couperin complete works.
        3. He may have adapted the bass from an ostinato in the final chorus of a Bach cantata (see example in NAWM 132 commentary).
      2. Another model may have been Bach’s chaconne finale from Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin, which Brahms transcribed as a left-hand exercise for piano.
        1. Both works are in minor with a middle section in the parallel major.
        2. In both, variations are often grouped in pairs.
        3. The points of return are marked by the reappearance of the opening idea and texture.
        4. They also share details of figurations.
      3. The use of variations as a finale and the treatment of the theme also recall Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.
      4. The movement has thirty-one variations on an eight-measure theme and ends with a substantial coda.
      5. Brahms grouped variations into five large sections, suggesting sonata form.
        1. Variations 1-12 (measures 1-96) serve as an exposition.
        2. Variations 13-16 (measures 97-128) form an interlude in 3/2 meter that moves to the parallel major.
        3. Variations 17-23 (measures 129-184), beginning with a variation that recalls the opening, serve as a development section
        4. Variations 24-27 (measures 185-216) serve as the recapitulation, with varied presentations of earlier variations.
        5. The coda (measure 253) is in a faster tempo and freely treats the original theme.
      6. Throughout, Brahms presents variations that are extensions of something we have heard before; Schoenberg called this technique “developing variation.”
  4. Other Works by Brahms
    1. Concertos
      1. Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor (1861) is his first major orchestral work.
      2. Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 (1881), with four movements, is his most symphonic conception of the genre.
      3. Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 (1878) is parallel in seriousness to Beethoven’s Concerto in the same key.
    2. Chamber music
      1. Brahms is the true successor of Beethoven in chamber music.
      2. He composed twenty-four chamber works, of which at least six are masterpieces.
      3. As in his orchestral works, Brahms incorporates classical traditions within his own personal style.
      4. Seven chamber works feature piano and strings, including three piano trios and three piano quartets.
      5. The first movement of the Quintet for Piano and Strings in F Minor. Op. 34 (1864), one of his most popular works, illustrates his technique of developing variation (see HWM Example 28.3).
    3. Piano music
      1. Brahms developed a highly individual musical style.
        1. Full sonority
        2. Broken-chord figuration
        3. Frequent doubling of the melody in octaves, thirds, or sixths
        4. Multiple chordlike appoggiaturas
        5. Frequent use of cross-rhythms
        6. Simple ideas developed into innovative textures
      2. Brahms composed three piano sonatas as a young man (1852-53).
        1. These works are in the tradition of Beethoven.
        2. They incorporate the chromatic harmony of Chopin and Liszt and the songlike style of Schumann.
      3. In his twenties, Brahms focused on variations.
        1. The variations appear as strings of short character pieces based on the formal and harmonic plan of the theme.
        2. Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 (1861) includes evocations of Chopin and Mozart, a variety of other musical styles, and a climactic Beethovenian fugue.
        3. Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 (1863) has etudelike qualities.
      4. In his last two decades, Brahms published six collections of intermezzos, rhapsodies, and other short pieces.
        1. These may be his greatest piano works.
        2. Most are in ABA’ forms and have songlike melodies.
    4. Songs
      1. Schubert was the model for Brahms’s songwriting.
        1. The voice dominates.
        2. The piano supports with figuration.
      2. Brahms composed 260 Lieder, many of which are strophic or modified strophic.
      3. Some songs incorporate characteristics of folk songs.
      4. The texts often suggest emotional restraint or an introspective, elegiac mood.
      5. Many of Brahms’s qualities can be seen in the first strophe of Wie Melodien zieht es mir (1886; see HWM Example 28.4).
    5. Choral works
      1. Brahms wrote his choral works for amateur performers.
      2. He arranged German folk songs for chorus and wrote many short unaccompanied songs for women’s, men’s, or mixed voices.
      3. Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem, 1868)
        1. Written for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra, this is his greatest choral work (see HWM Figure 28.4).
        2. The German text is not from the Latin Mass, but from the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament.
        3. Brahms draws upon the traditions of Sch�tz and Bach, but presents them in the colors of nineteenth-century harmony and orchestration.
    6. Reputation
      1. Brahms has been viewed as conservative, but he was a trailblazer.
      2. He was among the first to draw upon both the music of the past and present, a process that has been repeated by numerous composers of the twentieth century.
  5. Franz Liszt
    1. The New German School
      1. The term “New German School” was coined by a music critic in 1859.
        1. He viewed three composers as leaders: Wagner, Liszt, and Berlioz.
        2. Although the latter two were not Germans, Beethoven was their model.
      2. The term helped polarize the division between supporters of Liszt and Wagner and supporters of Brahms, such as the music critic Eduard Hanslick (see HWM Source Reading, page 726).
      3. Among the composers who sided with Wagner and Liszt are Bruckner, Wolf, and Richard Strauss.
    2. Liszt retired from his career as a concert pianist in 1848.
      1. He became court music director at Weimar and focused on composition.
      2. His works then went beyond virtuoso display.
      3. Some of his works reveal a shift towards the classical repertory.
    3. Symphonic poems
      1. Liszt composed twelve symphonic poems between 1848 and 1858.
      2. Each is a one-movement programmatic work for orchestra.
      3. The forms are often closely related to traditional Classical structures.
      4. The program content came from a variety of sources:
        1. Prometheus is from a myth and a poem by Herder.
        2. Mazeppa is taken from a poem by Victor Hugo.
        3. Orfeo ed Euridice pays homage to Gluck’s opera and an Etruscan vase.
      5. Liszt also composed two programmatic symphonies that function like a series of symphonic poems.
        1. Faust Symphony (1854)
        2. Dante Symphony (1856)
      6. Les Pr�ludes (The Preludes, 1854)
        1. This symphonic poem is linked to Alfonse-Marie de Lamartine’s poem of the same title.
        2. Both poem and music follow the same succession of moods.
        3. Liszt unifies the work through thematic transformation (see HWM Example 28.5).
      7. Liszt’s thematic transformation techniques are also evident in his four-movement Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major (1855).
    4. Piano Sonata in B Minor (1853)
      1. The work is written as one extended movement with four major themes that are transformed in a number of ways.
      2. The piece can be seen as both a gigantic sonata form and a condensed four-movement structure: fast sonata, slow, fugue, and fast finale.
    5. Choral music
      1. The choral works also reflect the accommodation between past and present.
      2. St. Elisabeth (1857-62) and Christus (1866- 72), his most important choral works, derive thematic material from plainchants.
    6. Liszt’s influence
      1. The symphonic poem was adapted by a number of other composers.
      2. His chromatic harmonies helped to form Wagner’s style after 1854.
      3. The even divisions of the octave, such as with the augmented triad, had a strong impact on Russian and French composers.
      4. His thematic transformation parallels Wagner’s use of leitmotives and Brahms’s developing variation.
  6. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) (see HWM Figure 28.5)
    1. Trained in counterpoint, Bruckner served as organist of the cathedral at Linz and as organist in Vienna from 1867 to his death.
    2. He brought Wagner’s style and ethos into his symphonies and choral music.
    3. Symphonies
      1. Bruckner composed nine numbered symphonies and two unnumbered ones.
      2. Most underwent extensive revisions.
      3. Influences of Beethoven
        1. All are four movements, and none is explicitly programmatic.
        2. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was a model in its procedure and purpose.
      4. Influences of Wagner
        1. Large-scale structures
        2. Extended lengths
        3. Lush harmonies
        4. Sequential repetition of entire passages
        5. Huge orchestra
      5. Bruckner’s orchestration is influenced by his experiences as an organist.
      6. Symphony No. 4, first movement (see HWM Example 28.6)
        1. It opens in a similar manner to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
        2. The movement can be seen as a sonata form with continuous development of musical ideas.
    4. Choral music
      1. Bruckner blended modern elements with the influences from the Cecilian movement, which promoted a revival of the sixteenth-century a cappella style.
      2. His motets for unaccompanied choir reflect Cecilian ideas, but they can also include bold harmonic treatment.
      3. The Mass No. 2 in E Minor (1866) is a neo-medieval work for eight-part chorus and fifteen wind instruments.
      4. The sacred works were designed to function in church and on the concert stage.
  7. Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
    1. Works
      1. Wolf is best known for adapting Wagner’s methods to the German Lied.
      2. He also composed music for piano, chamber ensembles, orchestras, and choruses; he wrote one opera.
    2. Lieder
      1. Wolf composed 250 Lieder, mostly in periods of intense activity between 1887 and 1897.
      2. He published five principal collections of songs, each devoted to a single poet or group, thereby stressing an equality of words and music.
      3. Like Wagner, he worked toward a fusion of poetry and music and of voice and piano.
      4. Lebe wohl! from the M�rike songbook reflects Wagner’s influences (see HWM Example 28.7).
        1. The arioso vocal line has speechlike rhythms.
        2. Continuity is sustained in the piano part.
        3. Chromatic harmonies are inspired by the idiom of Tristan und Isolde; all twelve chromatic notes appear in the first phrase.
  8. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) (see HWM Figure 28.6)
    1. Biography
      1. He was a dominant figure in German musical life.
      2. He was a famous conductor and led most of the world’s best orchestras.
      3. As a composer, he is best remembered for:
        1. Symphonic poems, mostly written before 1900
        2. Operas, mostly written after 1900
        3. Lieder
    2. Symphonic poems
      1. Strauss’s works are modeled after the program music of Berlioz and Liszt.
        1. Colorful orchestration
        2. Thematic transformation
        3. Types of programs, which are often based on literature
      2. Strauss derived his programs from a variety of sources, and his programmatic depictions range from representational to philosophical.
      3. Don Juan was Strauss’s first complete mature work and established his reputation.
        1. Events in the life of Don Juan are depicted, including a graphic sexual scene and his death at the end.
        2. Most of the work evokes moods of boldness and romance.
      4. Till Eulenspiegel is a representational telling of a trickster’s exploits.
        1. Two themes for Till are developed like leitmotives.
        2. The work can be heard with an understanding of the story or as a colorful concert work.
        3. Strauss called the form of the work a “rondo,” referring to the recurrence of the Till themes.
      5. Also Sprach Zarathustra
        1. This work is a musical commentary on Nietzsche’s long prose-poem.
        2. Nietzche suggests that the Christian ethic should be replaced by the ideal of a superman, who is above good and evil.
        3. Much of the work is philosophical, but there are some moments of direct representation.
        4. The opening, made famous in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, was inspired by Zarathurstra’s address to the rising sun in the prologue.
    3. Don Quixote (see excerpt in NAWM 133)
      1. Literary background
        1. This symphonic poem dramatizes Miguel de Cervantes’s novel of 1605.
        2. It depicts the adventures of the knight Don Quixote, his squire Sancho Panza, and his horse Rosinante (see HWM Figure 28.7).
      2. Structure
        1. The opening features two themes, representing Don Quizote and Sancho, followed by ten variations and an epilogue.
        2. The variation structure is loose and builds on Liszt’s technique of thematic transformation.
      3. Themes
        1. Much of the work sounds like chamber music.
        2. Don Quixote is represented by a solo cello, which is joined by a solo violin and English horn.
        3. The bass clarinet and tenor tuba represent Sancho.
        4. Motives in the solo viola suggest Rosinante.
      4. Variation 1
        1. The opening depicts a conversation between cello and bass clarinet.
        2. Tilting windmills can be heard in measures 60-78.
        3. The creaking blades are suggested by the orchestration, which includes col legno effects in the cellos.
        4. Don Quixote is knocked off his horse (measures 71-72), but picks himself up to seek a new adventure.
      5. Variation 2
        1. The strings suggest Don Quixote’s attempts to be bold while the winds ridicule with the Sancho theme.
        2. Fluttertonging in the winds depict the army of sheep that they encounter.

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