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  • Brahms' Schubert-Rezeption im Wiener Kontext ed. by Otto Biba et al.
  • Reuben Phillips
Brahms' Schubert-Rezeption im Wiener Kontext. Edited by Otto Biba, Gernot Gruber, Katharina Loose-Einfalt, and Siegfried Oechsle. Schubert: Perspektiven–Studien 5. pp. 334 (Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2017. €59. ISBN 978-3-515-11767-8.)

Before setting foot in Vienna in 1862, Brahms had developed a passion for the music of Franz Schubert that proved to be both creatively productive and lifelong. But despite the various letters and reported utterances that attest to his Schubert-Schwärmerei, Brahms's reception of his Viennese forebear's music is a tricky topic to investigate. This is partly because Brahms's engagement with Schubert's works must be understood not just with regard to his own composing, but also in conjunction with his varied activities as a performer, collector, editor, and arranger. More generally, the ongoing discovery of Schubert's compositions in the decades following his death meant that, in the mid-nineteenth century, scholarly and popular conceptions of the composer were in a state of flux. During the 1860s Schubert was a figure who was celebrated in Vienna but still not fully known: Brahms's enthusiasm for Schubert's music was fed both by his acquaintance with acknowledged masterpieces and by the excitement [End Page 562] that came from encounters with unpublished manuscripts.

This collection of essays is based on papers read at an international symposium held in Vienna in 2013 and considers Brahms's Schubert reception from an appropriately eclectic range of perspectives, devoting approximately equal amounts of attention to Brahms as an agent and to the changing musical landscape of his adopted home city of Vienna. The scholarly significance of the volume derives from the variety of methodological approaches taken by the fifteen contributors, many of whom present findings gleaned from the fresh study of primary source materials. Several chapters ponder the connections, similarities, and differences between compositions by Brahms and Schubert in individual genres, while others examine and contextualize Brahms's role as an editor and performer of Schubert's music. The remaining essays cast light on aspects of the musical culture of mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, either by exploring the activities of figures involved with the reception of Schubert's music, or by investigating wider themes such as canonization, cultural nationalism, and the shifting roles of amateur and professional musicians.

The first two chapters in the volume consider some of the significant changes between Schubert's Vienna and the city which Brahms got to know in the 1860s. Historian Lorenz Mikoletzky describes the cultural impact of political developments between the Congress of Vienna in 1814–5 and the revolutions of 1848, contrasting the oppressive censorship of the earlier period with the freer artistic climate of the second half of the century that enabled the flourishing of Vienna's press. With a slightly different emphasis, Otto Biba connects the political climate of pre-1848-era Vienna to dominant musical-aesthetic values, noting among contemporary critics a contentment with established musical styles and a general suspicion towards the new. Biba suggests that this mentality retained some influence over musical taste in the city even after the 1848 watershed (p. 27), going on to argue that these conservative values provided the background for the reception of Schubert as a 'classic', and that it was precisely this emphasis on continuity and tradition that attracted Brahms to the city.

The themes of continuity and tradition are also important to two essays on Vienna's concert life, which explore the public performance of chamber music and Brahms's role as a conductor of the city's Singakademie. Ingrid Fuchs notes that Brahms's first public appearance as a pianist in Vienna was in one of the subscription concerts of the Hellmesberger Quartet and observes that the tradition of professionalized, public performances of chamber music (of which this concert was part) dated back to the quartet concerts organized by Ignaz Schuppanzigh in the early nineteenth century. As Fuchs's chapter helpfully makes clear, though, while private performance contexts remained important for Brahms, by the 1860s the public performance of chamber works had been normalized—a development that was...


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