Brahms’s Chamber Music - Eric Wen
(Brahms (Spring 2018))

This seminar will focus on the chamber music of Johannes Brahms. Beginning with the Piano Trio No.1 in B (op. 8) composed in his early 20s to the late chamber works featuring the clarinet (opp. 111, 114 and 120) written near the end of his life. Brahms’s chamber music reflects the creative life of the most celebrated composer of the second half of the nineteenth century. Although regarded by his contemporaries as a reactionary who, in the words of Hugo Wolf, “hasn’t any idea about what has gone on in the past 50 years,” Brahms steadfastly continued writing music in the traditional forms bequeathed by the great Classical masters. Brahms’s 24 remarkable chamber works are not only beloved by performers, but have become firmly entrenched as masterpieces of the classical repertoire. In addition to surveying the different genres of Brahms’s chamber music, this course will look in detail at selected movements, examining them in terms of their formal design and tonal structure. Readings from biographies, as well as contemporary accounts of the composer, will add to our understanding of the different works in light of the composer’s career, as well as build a bibliography of Brahms resources. Finally, this course will discuss issues of performance styles as exemplified by the vast recorded legacy of interpreters from the early 20th century, many of whom knew the composer personally.  Readings: Frisch, Brahms and his World; Avins, Brahms: Life and Letters; Musgrave, A Brahms Reader; selected readings from Brahms biographies by Malcolm MacDonald, Jan Swafford, Karl Geiringer, Florence May, and Richard Specht. Final project: paper (ca. 1500 words) assessing the differences between the first (1854) and revised (1889) versions of the Piano Trio in B major, op.8.