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Music in the Nineteenth Century


CHAPTER 13 The Return of the Symphony
Richard Taruskin

Still, he went on postponing it. He made his return to “absolute” orchestral music via a shorter work, a set of Variations for Orchestra on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, composed in the summer of 1873, just after turning forty. The theme may not in fact have been Haydn's. Its source is a very obscure composition indeed: the second movement in the last of a set of six wind octets or “Feldparthien”—suites to be played by Feldmusiker or military musicians (wind players)—that Haydn wrote, presumably for members of Prince Eszterházy's retinue, at some undetermined point during his employment at Eisenstadt. It cannot be dated because it exists only in late copies, one of which happened to belong to the library of Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music), one of Brahms's favorite haunts. (It would remain unpublished until 1932, the bicentennial of Haydn's birth.) In the manuscript the theme Brahms chose is headed “Chorale St. Antoni” (“St. Anthony's Hymn”). It was probably a religious folk song for which Haydn merely provided a harmonization. Brahms's “theme” is actually Haydn's whole movement, first presented in Haydn's original scoring for oboes, horns, and bassoons (Ex. 13-10a). What probably attracted Brahms's ear to the piece was the unusual five-bar phrase structure (the result, very likely, of the now-forgotten words), but its reconditeness was surely another factor, testifying to the antiquarian, “musicological” tastes that distinguished him from most of his composing contemporaries. The Haydn Variations, in fact, was the first purely instrumental work by Brahms in which resonances not only from the “classical” but also the “preclassical” repertoire are conspicuous. The way in which Brahms combined them, thus forging a link that is now assumed to be a “historical” fact, was his signal achievement.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 13 The Return of the Symphony." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2024. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-013007.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 13 The Return of the Symphony. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Nineteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 23 Feb. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-013007.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 13 The Return of the Symphony." In Music in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 23 Feb. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-013007.xml
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