Brahms published his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel (Op.24) in 1861. Eight years earlier Robert Schumann had hailed Brahms as a Messiah who would blaze new paths in German music. Schumann was not taken very seriously at the time. History, however, would prove Schumann to be correct. With the Handel variations, we have one of the first, and indeed one of the finest, examples of the mature style toward which Brahms had been working for the past eight years. What makes Brahms in general, and this piece in particular, so unique is the way in which he was able to take the classical aesthetic and transform it into something undeniably romantic.
In this lecture the two main elements which I will examine will be motivic development and the large structure of the piece as a whole. In fact, it will be shown over the course of the lecture, how intimately connected the two elements are. After isolating a few of the most important motives in the work, their development throughout the work can be followed. This development is indeed closely linked with the apparent structural divisions of the piece. These sections are held together as a coherent unit through the aspects of mood, tempo, texture and so on. More important, however, is the motivic development across the piece and the resulting work of art.
Richard Adams, ’02 Sacramento, CA
Major: Music and German (BA)
Sponsor: James Martin