Dr. Michael Musgrave A Brahms Reader

ISBN 13: 9780300068047

A Brahms Reader

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9780300068047: A Brahms Reader
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This engaging account of the life of Johannes Brahms provides a fuller portrait of the German composer than ever before. Eminent Brahms scholar Michael Musgrave draws on a wide array of documentation to illuminate Brahms`s personality; his outlook as a composer; his activities as pianist, conductor, scholar, and traveler; his friendship with Robert and Clara Schumann; and much more.

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This is a thoughtful, impressively researched book, unusual in its perspective and organization. In separate chapters, Michael Musgrave presents Johannes Brahms the man, friend, and colleague, as well as the student, composer, performer, and scholar, in his private life and public life, drawing on his own words and those of his friends and contemporaries. The final section is devoted to the critical and public reception of his works, beginning in his lifetime and reaching into the present, in an attempt to place the composer in the proper historical context. The text is supplemented by many pictures and voluminous notes adding further quotes and listing sources and bibliographies.

Musgrave discusses Brahms's growing up, his early training and later self-education, the development of his artistic and compositional aesthetic. "The Mature Compositional Outlook" chapter, which includes ideas on teaching, is one of the best. The author describes Brahms's loving relationship with his family, and he refutes the popular misconception that Brahms was forced at an early age to perform in disreputable establishments. Musgrave presents the composer's many close, lifelong friendships as evidence of the man's innate kindness and generosity, but he doesn't gloss over Brahms's frequent outbursts of abrasiveness and unpredictability. To his great credit, Musgrave places Brahms's relationship with Clara Schumann in the noblest, most ideal light, quoting from her diaries and letters, without any of the usual hints and innuendos. He traces Brahms's growing interest in scholarship, art, and literature, his travels, his friendship with leading artists and writers, and his relationships with other musicians and composers.

After Brahms's brief youthful attack on Liszt's music, the famous feud between his school of thought and those of Wagner, Liszt, and Bruckner was carried on mainly by followers of the two camps. Partisanship often replaced musical judgment: the reviews of Brahms's music by both admirers and detractors reveal the arrogance with which a new, complex work was evaluated--and condemned--upon first hearing. But it is the analyses of the musicians and especially the musicologists of our own time that become truly arcane: "Subjectification and objectification are intertwined." Or: "The subjective approach to composition forces the conventional language to speak again, without varying it by means of its intervention as language." (Theodore Adorno). What would Brahms, in his uninhibited bluntness, have said to that?

The book's style is scholarly, if not always elegant or entirely clear. There are many careless errors of spelling and grammar, notably in the German quotes, which multiply progressively, as if the author (or his proofreader) were running out of time. The notes elucidating Brahms's collection of romantic poetry quote the original German, which is delightful for German readers, but shows up the inadequacy of the translation. Musgrave's avowed purpose is to "integrate" the contradictions in Brahms's character and music, but by focusing on each aspect of his life separately, he creates further fragmentation, as well as some chronological confusion, repetition, and abruptness. Moreover, surely such contradictions are a condition of life, especially for a creative genius whose need for both solitary concentration and human companionship must be satisfied and balanced with the demands of a career and everyday living. Only in his work can he reconcile and synthesize his conflicts, and in this, Brahms succeeded magnificently. --Edith Eisler

About the Author:

Michael Musgrave is emeritus professor of music at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and visiting research fellow at the Royal College of Music.

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ISBN 10:  0300091990 ISBN 13:  9780300091991
Publisher: Yale University Press, 2001
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