Thursday, November 25, 2010

Brahms and Mozart

Writing earlier this morning on about the performances of the music of Johannes Brahms in this week’s subscription concerts by the San Francisco Symphony, I suggested that one of the motives behind Brahms’ first piano concerto (Opus 15 in D minor) may have been to refute, if not attack, the music practices of Franz Liszt, using his first piano concerto in E-flat major as a case in point.  Liszt’s concerto premiered in Weimar in 1855, which puts in in the middle of that period of time Brahms devoted to his own concerto.  It is unclear how much attention Brahms gave to this concerto;  but one could understand that it would have played a role in Brahms coining the adjective “Lisztich” as a synonym for excessive bad taste.

The reason it might have played that role is that Brahms may well have perceived the concerto as an attack on his personal sense of identity.  For better or worse Liszt’s concerto was iconoclastic, and the icon that took the most severe smashing was the concept of the concerto itself as it had developed through the efforts of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.  From this point of view, Brahms could well have felt that Liszt was undermining his own “presentation of self” (as Goffman put it) as a music-maker.

This would then raise the question of how significant Mozart and Beethoven had been in shaping Brahms’ sense of that “presentation of self.”  There is no question of Beethoven’s role in this process.  I have even described Brahms as having “to live with the influence of Beethoven without succumbing to that influence.”  However, on the basis of the following sentences from Brahms’ Wikipedia entry, we may assume that Mozart’s influence was less of a source of anxiety:

Brahms also loved the Classical composers Mozart and Haydn. He collected first editions and autographs of their works, and edited performing editions.

This has led me to wonder just what performing editions of Mozart were products of Brahms’ editing.  My initial attempt to search for scores in the Library of Congress catalog was not successful, so I am not yet ready with a quick answer.  There is a side of me that wonders whether Brahms’ work on his D minor piano concerto may have been influenced by his preparing a performing edition of Mozart’s concerto in the same key.  (It is hard to imagine that Brahms was not one of the many serious listeners who was most impressed by Mozart when the latter was working in a minor key.)  Hopefully, I shall be able to create some personal research time to investigate this matter further.

No comments: