Johannes Brahms composed music in a time when ideas about meaning in music were intensely divided. In late nineteenth-century Europe, the banners of “absolute” and “program” music waved above polemic diatribes concerning musical expression. Although quite aware of the arguments swirling around him, Brahms was reluctant to get involved. Evidence shows that he really wanted nothing to do with either side of the debate. Since the nineteenth century, many musicians have relied upon “absolute” and “program” categorizations in order to understand how Brahms thought meaning could be expressed in music. This misguided approach hinders active discussion of meaning more than it supports it. Understanding the historical aesthetics of nineteenth-century Europe is important, but letting old categorizations from the past limit interpretations in the present stifles fruitful interaction with the music.
Level of Honors
Conservatory of Music
Keep, David Andrew, "Analysis as Interpretive Act : Expression and Meaning in the Op. 116 Fantasien of Johannes Brahms" (2011). Lawrence University Honors Projects. 114.