Cover image for The compleat Brahms : a guide to the musical works of Johannes Brahms
The compleat Brahms : a guide to the musical works of Johannes Brahms
Botstein, Leon.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
448 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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ML410.B8 C64 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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For all those eager to delve more deeply into Brahms's music, The Compleat Brahms is an indispensable companion. In a single volume that covers every work written by Brahms, leading scholars from across the country provide details of each work's composition and discuss its important stylistic features. Interspersed are fascinating essays -- such as "Brahms, Joachim, and the Schumanns" -- that bring the composer and his contemporaries to life. Much more than a collection of program notes, The Compleat Brahms vividly portrays the work and world of one of the giants of Western music history.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Originally scheduled to appear in 1997, the centenary of Brahms' death, this "annotated catalog," as editor Botstein modestly if accurately calls it, must be reckoned one of the most welcome latecomers ever, at least by admirers of the last of classical music's great "three B's." In it, every piece of Brahms' music accorded an opus number is annotated by one of 30 Brahms authorities. Each annotation covers a composition's genesis, structure, and critical and popular reception. In order not to discourage those who don't read music, no examples in musical notation appear, though to encourage music readers to go to the scores, neither performance practices nor recordings are mentioned. The annotations are sorted into the book's five large parts on orchestral, chamber, solo piano, solo vocal, or other vocal and choral music, respectively. Botstein provides absorbing culturally and biographically oriented introductions to those parts and discusses Brahms' works without opus numbers in a brief sixth part. Musician and nonmusician Brahmsians alike should revel in this trove of lively, keenly intelligent commentary. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Botstein, president of Bard College and director of the American Symphony Orchestra, presents this helpful and user-friendly compendium as the "first and only annotated catalog of Brahms' music in English." Essays by such scholars as Walter Frisch and Michael Musgrave (whose Cambridge Companion to Brahms is forthcoming) are gathered into chapters on Orchestral Music, Chamber Music, Solo Piano Music, Solo Lieder and Vocal and Choral Music. Botstein himself, who writes on many vocal works, has a welcome tendency toward brevity, and never goes on too long about minor works or even major ones. All the essays are anchored in the composer's life, revealing such matters as his relations with Robert and Clara Schumann as well as other still-debated details of his love life. Some of the more outstanding essays in this vein are by Jan Swafford, author of Johannes Brahms: A Biography, who introduces the "Alto Rhapsody" in a way guaranteed to appeal even to those who consider Brahms to be merely "Gloomy Joe," as the EMI record producer Walter Legge used to sarcastically refer to him, adding: "The main problem with Brahms is that he never got syphilis." By contrast, the book's writers' are all Brahms enthusiasts, and their excitement is infectious, in good part because the essays are not permitted to go on to Brahmsian lengths. Botstein has compiled a valuable, welcome addition to the bibliography. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This collection of approximately 100 short essays from 30 scholars provides analysis and discussion on virtually every one of Brahms's compositions. The works are grouped in chapters according to genre. Larger works (e.g., symphonies) are given individual essays, and smaller ones (e.g., songs) are grouped chronologically. Each writer was given the freedom to approach the subject independently, and the entries, which range from one to several pages in length, vary in the amount of biographical, historical, and analytical material they contain. Some of the essays are chatty, while others are quite technical. Botstein, president of Bard College and director of the American Symphony Orchestra, provides some unity in an introductory overview of Brahms's life and short introductions to each of the five major chapters, but for the most part this is a reference book for the serious Brahms lover.ÄTimothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One SERENADES Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Opus 11 Composed 1857-60; published 1860 Scoring: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings Movements: 1. Allegro molto; 2. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo. Trio: Poco più moto; 3. Adagio non troppo; 4. Menuetto I, Menuetto II; 5. Scherzo: Allegro; 6. Rondo: Allegro     The two Serenades Opp. 11 and 16 are closely associated with Brahms's Detmold period (1857-60), when he taught and played piano and had charge of the court choir during three winter seasons. His biographer Max Kalbeck and others have attributed the markedly Classical stylistic features (in great contrast to the preceding, first orchestral work, the Piano Concerto in D Minor, Op. 15) to his study of the orchestral scores of Haydn and the wind serenades of Mozart, and to the fine playing of the winds of the court orchestra. However, the origin of Op. 11 suggests a broader provenance. The work was first composed as chamber music, apparently for wind and strings, either first as an octet (as noted by Brahms's Detmold colleague Karl Bargheer) or as a nonet for horn, flute, two clarinets, bassoon, and strings (which Kalbeck notes as its scoring when first performed). This semiorchestral format, taken with the number of movements, rather suggests such works as Beethoven's Septet and Schubert's Octet, both for similar ensembles, though Brahms's prominent use of the horn solo might be attributed to memories of the eighteenth-century serenade and symphony. The score, from which Joseph Joachim first conducted on March 28, 1859, at a special Philharmonic concert in the Wörmerscher Saal in Hamburg, "for small orchestra" (with augmented strings) has not survived, and neither have the parts; recent performances and recordings have been of "reconstructed" versions.     From its first reference, in the summer of 1858, the Serenade in D seems to have been known as a four-movement work, comprising the present outer movements, an Andante (apparently the present Adagio non troppo) and a "Trio," which was probably the first Minuet, in triple meter and three parts. In December followed "two new scherzos and a minuet" to make the six-movement work. But Brahms had long had doubts about the scoring--and Joachim had already pointed out the awkwardness of the violin writing in the sixth movement--eventually concluding that the work was of symphonic character. On December 8, 1859, Brahms asked Joachim to send music paper in full score for him to rework the Serenade as a "symphony," commenting that the work was not right, but a "hybrid." By this time, Joachim had come to know it as a "symphony serenade," and the manuscript temporarily bore this title, but it was later deleted. The work was first performed in the final version by Joachim conducting the court orchestra of Hanover on March 3, 1860. The score was sent to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig on July 14, 1860 (now with the opus number 11 instead of 18), and published by the firm in December 1860 as Serenade in D Major "for full orchestra" with parts (to distinguish it from the Serenade in A "for small orchestra," published by Simrock in November 1860), and also in a four-hand arrangement by Brahms, which had been completed in May 1859.     Though Brahms remained attached to the earlier version of the work, Joachim was right in recognizing its symphonic character. Its powerful tuttis and broad ideas demand a full orchestra for achieving a full effect. But the title "Serenade" is still justified by the preponderance of typically outdoor ideas associated with the horn, clarinet, and flute solos, and the often dancelike character of the music, which even extends to the developmental passages. In providing two scherzos and paired minuets (the latter effectively functioning as a transition from slow movement to second scherzo), Brahms allies the multi-movement character of the Classical serenade to a range of styles that display features suggestive of Haydn, early Beethoven, and Schubert, while always suffused with his characteristic warmth of feeling, to make a very individual whole--for this work is no pastiche. Though its symphonic significance was short-lived (Brahms produced a genuine symphonic first movement, which begins like the Allegro of the First Symphony, by 1862), this Serenade laid a crucial foundation for the composer's mature style in its integrated yet idiomatic use of the orchestra, free of pianistic thinking.     In the chamber version, the wind instruments were used very idiomatically, tied stylistically to traditional associations. Thus, the use of duetting clarinets in sixths over an articulated pedal in the bassoon in Menuetto I; the bold solo horn theme in hunting style at the beginning of the work, and likewise that in the second Scherzo and its Trio; the scherzo theme and its counterpointing bass have been related respectively to the Scherzo in Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 and the Finale of Haydn's Symphony No. 104 (both also in D major). The revised version of the work hardly extends the characterization of the ideas at all, leading themes being given throughout to the flute, clarinets, horn, and bassoon, the additional instruments used rather to balance the full string group in the tuttis. A particular feature taken from the original in the first movement and especially in the third is the extensive woodwind writing in the codas, recalling the parallel point in the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, a movement already strongly hinted at in the string figuration in the transition passage to the second theme. Yet in formal terms, Brahms overweighed the serenade genre with the concentration of his ideas and their working. The first movement is longer than those of any of the symphonies: 574 measures without the repeat of the lengthy exposition, which has much repetition in the first thematic group and a weighty closing group. The ternary-form third movement is also symphonic in breadth, with a leisurely transition to the central section and a striking false reprise of the exposition, beginning in F# major before the predictable tonic, B[flat]. The sonata-rondo Finale is also expansive and plays a structural role in completing the whole, with a recomposed recapitulation that reverses the themes and leads to a reflective coda before the tutti conclusion. Even one of the minuets displays developmental features. Menuetto II functions not as a trio contrast but as a wistful commentary on the closing phrase of its companion, substituting minor for major and strings for winds. Only one movement is driven by a really Brahmsian idea: the first Scherzo has a mysterious "unison" idea in the lower strings which realizes its contrapuntal implications when imitation occurs in the course of a lengthy exposition, made more effective by the total contrast of a swinging trio at a quicker tempo in the submediant major, B[flat]. The work was not easily accepted in early performances; features to which modern listeners are accustomed--cross rhythms, intricate part-writing, subtleties of blend and balance--presented entirely new challenges to players at the time. Michael Musgrave Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Opus 16 Composed 1858-60; published 1860 Scoring: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, violas, cellos, basses Movements: 1. Allegro moderato; 2. Scherzo: Vivace; 3. Adagio non troppo; 4. Quasi Menuetto; 5. Rondo: Allegro     Unlike its predecessor, the Serenade in D, the Serenade in A was apparently conceived in its finished version from the start, and was completed more quickly. Its scoring is much closer to that of the Mozartean serenade in its use of a full wind complement of doubled clarinets, flutes, horns, and bassoons. Its twelve independent wind and brass parts create a self-sufficient ensemble to which strings are added for contrast and counterpoint rather than essential support. However, Brahms gives an entirely original dimension to the concept by the use of a string body without violins, thereby adding a mellow quality to the whole; the thematic lead is invariably given to the winds, with the violas and cellos often doubled in thematic response rather than statement. Additionally, Brahms includes a piccolo in the Finale to contribute to a celebratory quality that almost suggests an outdoor band--perhaps an allusion to the Detmold wind players.     Clara Schumann was most intimate to the origins of this serenade. Brahms sent her the first movement in December 1858. She found the ideas comparable to those of the First Serenade but the "working out far more successful" and asked if there were any more movements. Despite her requests, he did not reveal more until September 10, 1859, sending the first, third, and fourth movements to her for her birthday, September 13, and requesting especially her reaction to the Adagio, to find whether "it is worth all the trouble I have taken with it." Her lengthy reply is very enthusiastic, and she particularly notes the Trio and the Adagio, writing of the intense pleasure given by the latter that it is "as if I were to gaze at each filament of a wondrous flower. It is most beautiful." She received the complete score on November 9, and the work was first performed on February 10, 1860, in Hamburg at a private Philharmonic concert, conducted by Brahms. Though he offered it to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel at the same time that he sent its companion, it was not accepted (a sign of its less popular effect); it was, however, published at almost the same time as the Serenade in D (November 1860) by Simrock of Bonn, later his main publisher, with the subtitle "for small orchestra" since it lacks trumpets and timpani as well as violins. The piano four-hand version made by Brahms appeared at the same time. Brahms was exceptionally pleased with the result, commenting when he made the arrangement, "I have seldom written music with greater delight. It seemed to sound so beautiful that I was overjoyed," though adding with typical irony, "My pleasure was not increased by the knowledge that I was the composer." However, he later made numerous amendments to the markings and a completely revised edition, "New, revised by the Author," on which subsequent editions are based, appeared in 1875 or 1876. For performance around this time, Brahms indicated a desired performing body of eight violas, six cellos, and four basses.     The second Serenade is more formally balanced and stylistically integrated than its predecessor and anticipates even more closely features of Brahms's mature orchestral idiom, in which interchanging and soloistic wind and horn writing are characteristic. The predominance of winds and the less expansive style, though again with prominent dancelike elements, makes the title "Serenade" more appropriate for this work, which could almost be played out of doors. The integration of style elements is immediately apparent in the incorporation of triplets into the first subject, whereas they appear only as a means of contrast in the second subject in the Serenade in D. Also, his treatment of the dance movements shows more individuality. The outer movements are again in sonata form and sonata-rondo form, with a central Adagio non troppo in ternary form flanked now by two rather than three movements, one each of Scherzo and Trio and "Quasi-Menuetto" and Trio; the total structure displays much greater economy and ingenuity. There is a strong difference in the organization of the first movements, this one being notable for omitting the repetition of the exposition and, instead, prefacing the development with a brief statement of the first theme in the tonic with a modulating continuation into the development. But the form is not a rondo; its sonata spirit is apparent in the extensive and powerful later development of the first theme and the retransition back to it, though the themes themselves are succinct. The Rondo Finale is similarly economical, though with a development in the central section that makes particularly expressive use of the lyrical second theme in the oboe--the theme is now cast in the minor and is imitated by the cellos. The main theme recalls the Scherzo (notable for its ostinato rhythm and its continuously connected trio serving as a variation) in its use of a hunting-horn idiom, which includes the same opening interval of a rising fourth as a call to attention. The movement also includes a false reprise of the rondo theme in augmentation after the development, with a complete recomposition of the section. In form and ideas, the movement comes closer to its counterpart in the Serenade in D than do any other corresponding movements. The third movement now carries even more expressive weight, in view of its reflective and expansive character and its dramatic central section, with horn and wind writing that looks directly to the Second Symphony and the Violin Concerto. Clara's comment that "it might be eleison" perhaps alludes to the association with Baroque church music of the modulating ostinato bass, on which the first section of its ternary form is built; the wind melody above intensifies the sense of a contrapuntal structure, especially as it is treated in imitation. The central section comes closest to a fully orchestral idiom with its tremolo strings and dramatic horn writing, initiating an elaboration that yields to the recapitulation of the ostinato by gradual stages of theme and key.     The greater maturity of the work is especially clear in the adaptation of traditional idioms. The "quasi-Menuetto" transforms the triple meter into a larger duple meter of 6/4, the motivic idiom giving the whole a reflective and improvisatory quality, intensified when the second part begins in the mediant, F# major; the Trio is in the minor mode of this key and its even more elusive character led Clara to note a "floating" quality in the oboe melody. The ostinato rhythm of the Scherzo permits a reading of three groups of two beats in the two-measure idea, which is made more explicit in the tied hemiola effect at the final cadence, a feature that continues through the Trio. Subtleties such as these, combined with the unusual scoring and length--too long for an overture, not long enough for a symphony--have made the work difficult to program and denied it the popularity of its companion until the era of the CD, though it was at first better received. Michael Musgrave Copyright (c) 1999 Leon Botstein. All rights reserved.