- Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning ed. by Heather Platt and Peter H. Smith
In the first chapter of Expressive Intersections, editors and contributors Heather Platt and Peter Smith outline their principal approach to Brahms analysis, arguing that “. . . a more thorough understanding of Brahms’s music emerges when issues of meaning are considered in conjunction with those of structure—indeed that these aspects of the aesthetic experience are inseparable” (p. 4). Indeed, this beautifully crafted and diverse volume makes great strides toward proffering a much-needed revision of the tired but persistent image of Brahms as a conservative formalist whose output resides principally in the domain of so-called “absolute” music. To this end, Expressive Intersections features essays that offer analyses of structure and expressivity not only in the realm of texted works, but also identifies expressivity through structural analyses of instrumental works.
Part 1 lays out some principal issues related to interpretation of meaning in Brahms. Chapter 1 summarizes each of the essays and establishes the need for more analytical work of the type offered in this [End Page 468] volume. Steven Rings’s essay, which appears as chapter 2, begins with an insightful analysis of the Intermezzo in A (op. 118, no. 2), in which Rings shows that the dramatic crux of the work aligns with the greatest culmination of “artifice” (technical processes that may seem to be located remotely from the surface). Following this compelling introduction, Rings produces evidence in the form of correspondence between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and also between Brahms and Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, that, at times, the presence of obvious artifice appeared to draw criticism from his friends—or at the very least, that the lack of such artifice was to be considered a virtue. Rings summarizes the issue thusly: “is the music affecting because of its artifice or in spite of it?” (p. 26), eventually concluding that, in Brahms’s music, expressive narratives often align with technical processes that occur beneath the surface, and that these hidden processes make the music a source of continued fascination and discovery for the educated musician (Kenner).
Part 2 deals with the intersection of structure and expressivity in Brahms’s texted works. Chapter 3’s intriguing essay by Yonatan Malin offers an analysis of the first song from artist Max Klinger’s Brahms Fantasy, a bound volume aligning five of Brahms’s songs, chosen from different published collections and ordered by Klinger, with a variety of images that, according to the artist, were not intended to be illustrations as such (cited in Expressive Intersections, p. 54). Malin begins with inspired analyses of both the poem and the song, and then looks at how Klinger’s artwork interprets Brahms’s setting, much as Brahms’s music interprets the poetry. Malin’s ultimate analytical observation is that several pivotal musical resolutions occur at the precise point in the score where Klinger has printed birds flying out of the score and into an accompanying graphic; Malin draws parallels among these various processes relating to what he perceives as a sort of circularity inherent in the poem, the song, and Klinger’s artwork. The essay concludes with Malin’s evocative reading of connections among the remaining songs in Klinger’s cycle.
Heather Platt’s essay “Brahms’s Mädchenlieder and Their Cultural Context,” provides a compelling account of Brahms’s depiction of women in his lieder. As Platt points out, this topic has been overlooked by Brahms scholars, despite the fact that more than twenty percent of Brahms’s lieder set poetry that is understood from a female perspective. In this essay, Platt examines several of Brahms’s folklike lieder that are heard in a female narrative voice, all of which have been written off by scholars as trite or sentimental depictions of lovelorn women. By placing these works in a broader cultural context—that is, by comparing common contemporary artistic renderings of young women...