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Music in the Nineteenth Century


CHAPTER 13 The Return of the Symphony
Richard Taruskin

One of the most contentious points at issue between the New Germans and their opponents was the historical status of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Wagner had notoriously cast it, in suitably religious terms, as the “redemption of Music from out of her own peculiar element into the realm of universal art,” and “the human evangel of the art of the future.”28 In other words, the mixture of vocal and symphonic media in the last movement closed the door on the further development of abstract instrumental music, making Lisztian programmatics and Wagnerian “synthesis” (or Gesamtkunstwerk, as it was misnamed) not only necessary but inevitable. To “revoke” the Ninth Symphony and its supposed mandate would be to revoke the New German charter, or so their opponents imagined, and with it the whole historicist creed. It would be a victory for Germany as well, paradoxical as that may sound, for it would rescue German art from its Wagnerian preoccupation with German “thematics” and return Germany to its place at the forefront (to borrow Wagner's own arrogant term) of “universal art.” Brahms realized that the only way to accomplish the necessary reinterpretation would be to recompose the finale of the Ninth as a nonprogrammatic instrumental work. Encouraged by the response to the Haydn Variations, he finally returned to the First Symphony in the summer of 1874, resuming work not with the next movement in order of performance, but with the finale. It was only when the outer movements were in place—the dynamic C-minor “allegro” transfiguring Beethoven's Fifth and the monumental finale transfiguring the Ninth—that Brahms saw the work's trajectory whole, and was able quickly to fill in the middle movements.

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-div1-013008.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-div1-013008.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-div1-013008.xml
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