A Historiography of Musical Historicism: The Case of Johannes Brahms
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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) lived in an epoch marked by the 1848 revolution that precipitated social, cultural, and economical changes. In the realm of music, the extension of concert repertory to music of the past, and the emergence of historical writings reflected a greater awareness of music history. While composers of that era, including Brahms, arguably worked under the growing weight of history, Brahms was able to place himself within the ranks of classical masters by his historicist aesthetics and compositional methodology that synthesized the past, the present, and his individual creativity. Combined with his connection to musicology, a blooming discipline and child of the historicism movement, his historicist practice and thinking continuously receive scholarly attention, especially in the twentieth century up until today. Musical historicism, however, remains a problematic and paradoxical concept, notwithstanding the fact that it gradually gains importance in both Germanic and Anglo-American Brahms scholarship and historiography, hence, increasing the need for historiographical studies on musical historicism in Brahms.
This thesis is a study of the interpretations and writings on Brahms and musical historicism from selected Anglo-American and German Brahms scholars, starting from the late 1960s, when scholars began to use “musical historicism” prominently as a term, up to the 2010s, in order to provide an overview of the usage and development of this term in Brahms scholarship and also to determine the extent to which there is a consensus on how Brahms scholars have employed this concept. With this study, I hope to highlight the importance of continuous reassessment and reinterpretation of writings on Brahms’s musical historicism, and, more specifically, speak to issues related to the reception history of Brahms’s music as well as informing our understanding of Brahms’s place in musical historicism.
The first chapter surveys relevant secondary literature, providing an overview of the historicism movement in philosophy and music pertinent to the case of Brahms, from the nineteenth century to the present. Chapters two, three, and four will chronologically trace and assess selected scholarly writings on Brahms’s musicological activities, compositional methodologies and styles, and critical reception. In the last chapter, I will summarize the thesis and ultimately suggest that the concept of musical historicism and its relationship with Brahms are evolving through time and have become an important force in Brahms’s scholarship, essential for a more holistic understanding of Brahms’s life and works and selected Brahms studies in their historical positions.