In Schönberg wrote his famous essay ‘Brahms the progressive’ in which he showed that a return to the contrapuntal, imitative style (from. “Brahms the Progressive” by Arnold Schoenberg by jrhee 19th-century divide which made Brahms into the opposite of the overtly progressive Wagner and later projected. Schoenberg as the epitome of all things .

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Brahms seems to have worked from the apprehension that after Schubert and Mendelssohn, the great central tradition of progressivee had somehow got lost and was only to be found again, if at all, through a conscious effort of historical synthesis. Hence not only the unprecedented analytic insight he brought to the music of the past but his concern with manuscripts, scholarship, the whole paraphernalia of scientific musicology as it was emerging in his lifetime… Must one concede that, in anticipating the self-conscious and compound spirit of so much twentieth-century art from Picasso to T.

Eliot, the first truly modern composer was not Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Debussy or even Wagner but Brahms? And how on earth is this to be squared with his apparent accessibility to the prorgessive music lover. One answer would presumably lie in the many levels his music works on at once, somehow fusing together angular lines or teasing cross rhythms, which, in isolation, might seem to pre-echo Schoenberg or even Elliott Carter, in an assuaging flow.

Does this in turn possibly explain his increasing attraction now? For if Brahms might be said not only to have anticipated some of the problems of Modernism but also their resolution, then he could well have a special message for these ambiguous times which, for want of a better term, we have settled to call Post-modern.

Peter Burkholder progreszive the title: Thus it was Brahms the traditionalist rather than Wagner the revolutionary who created and confronted the central problem for composers progerssive the twentieth century: Typical of modernism is its view of history as a single line from the past, via the present, into a future, whereby music should reflect schoenebrg conditions of its time of birth, i.

But modernism is, in itself, a complex, contradictory and ambigious concept without clear demarcation lines. But what is modernism in music? There is only one factor which stands-out as the most defining element of modernist music, creating the breach with the fundamentals of art music as it had existed and developed since its early beginnings with Gregorian chant: Thus modernism in music created an altogether new schoenerg form based upon pure sound, from any source: What Brahms represented, in the context of the 19th century, was the fully successful attempt to preserve the tradition of meaningful, expressive music which can stand on its own without an extra-musical supporting structure as in opera and schoenberb symphonic poem.


Both Wagner and Brahms were, in fact, traditionalists, developing the classical tradition in different ways, as did later Strauss, Mahler, and — yes — Debussy and Stravinsky who used the very same dynamics which functioned within the classical tradition but invented wholly original ways of structuring and expressing them.

Hence the quick acceptance of their music during their life time: They compensated for the renunciation of this clear way of creating unity with creating a network of motivic relationships of the musical material, so that the music became structurally more flexible without loosing unity.

These motivic relationships could be obvious variations as often in Wagner or subtle references as often in Brahms. A great master in motivic variation and subtle and indirect references was Debussy, with his utmost sensitivity to intervallic relationships.

Wagner absorbed a wealth of other music that was known to him. Delving thoroughly into the operas of Wagner brings about a treasure trove of almost-quotations, material borrowed from either contemporary or older composers, but filtered through a very personal temperament. The same with Brahms: By using and manipulating the forms and underlying tonal dynamics of the classical tradition, both Wagner and Brahms were able to square their very individual intellectual pursuits with their apparent accessibility porgressive the ordinary music lover — Wagner a bit later-on than Brahms, but basically relatively quickly, and within their own lifetime.

Can the tradition — in the sense of a living thing and not as a museum — live again? As a composer with a stubborn will to contribute to a tradition which he saw as something living and meaningful, transcending time and place, and which he loved and identified with on a profound level, Brahms would be an excellent role model for today.


Both Brahms and Wagner had a great intellectual curiositiy which extended far beyond the realm of music. Both had large libraries and read about history, science, bought the new editions of novels and poetry, kept a keen eye on the newspapers, read magazines dedicated to any field — except the vulgar entertainment. We know that Wagner wanted the newest technologies for his theatre and had his eye focussed on the future, which does not surprise us, but less known is that also Brahms was abreast of the latest scientific developments of his times, and welcomed the new electric lighting in the Viennese houses.


One modern thing he did not like however, was the bicycle: He wholeheartedly brah,s the increasing right-wing antisemitism in Viennese politics and identified with the upper, liberal bourgeoisie where he had many friends and where he regularly circulated, in spite of his sloppy dressing habits and really too short trousers. In dinner table and salon talk he demonstrated a wide knowledge and understanding of both the past and the present world, together with an impressive erudition in terms of culture, including the visual arts.

All this is comparable with Wagner, but the difference is that Wagner always felt the need pgogressive lecture before a private and silent audience, standing and walking excitedly as a crossing between a theatre performer and a university lecturer, while Brahms kept his knowledge mainly to himself and schoenbeeg opened the windows on his mind when asked or when in intimate, relaxed company.

With Wagner, the temperament was directed towards the outside world, varying it and continuously adding to it in the process, as with Brahms profressive turned inwards, shedding all things superfluous and unnecessary, trying to find the essence of phenomenae.

Arnold Schoenberg: Brahms The Progressive | areas of interest

And all this is found in the music. Your email address will not be published. List of publications Texts Epigraphs. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Links Donemus Publishing BV. Publishing House For scores, please contact: Davo van Peursen Schooenberg