Late Style and Last Things in Brahms' Op. 122 Choral Preludes

Chad Fothergill
Crown Center Sheraton Hotel - FREMONT

In March 1902, days before the fifth anniversary of Brahms’s death, the composer’s longtime publisher advertised a forthcoming edition of chorale preludes, Op. 122, billed as “the only musical legacy of the master.” While these preludes have endured as a staple of the organ repertoire, musicological literature has regarded them from a distance, referencing the collection as a whole, yet excluding individual chorales from studies of Brahms’s late style, his engagement with religious topics, and his penchant for esoteric allusion. This paper seeks to bring the Op. 122 preludes out of their parenthetical treatment and into dialogue with the noteworthy survey of Brahms’s organ repertoire by Barbara Owen (2007), ideas of “lateness” put forth by Edward Said (2006), and the “late self-fashioning” which Linda and Michael Hutcheon (2015) have traced across the output of aging composers. Brahms’s return to the organ by way of an historically exegetical genre offers insight into his response to significant cultural shifts in late nineteenth-century Vienna, including the rise of German nationalist sentiment. Especially significant is his construction of distinct musical spaces through dynamic contrast, manual changes, and registral shifts: correlations between musical gesture and chorale text suggest a demarcation between physical, earthly existence (often forte) and a spiritual, heavenly realm (often piano). Movements between these spaces may be read as attempts to navigate the gulf between them, a deliberate “untethering” from a dystopic present that also offers a window into Brahms’s personal theology.

Friday, July 6
11:00 – 11:45am