I... You... Wait, What? History???

1. Kurt Weill studied with Busoni, who studied with Wilhelm Keinzl, who studied with Franz Lizst, who studied with Anton Reicha, who studied with Antonio Salieri, who studied with Geovanni Battista Pescetti, who studied with Antonio Lotti, who studied with Giovanni Legrenzi... in 1660-ish.

2. Weill’s Violin Concerto is, decidedly, a modernist work, yet with an inclination towards neoclassicism and romanticism. It is not and cannot be a blank slate. Can any music ever be?

3. It is true that Weill’s idealism, as exemplified in his comic-operas Die B├╝rgschaft (1931) and Der Silbersee (1932), made the Nazis mad, forcing him to “relocate,” as it were. Thus, being a political progressive (and a Jew) was not particularly beneficial to his personhood.

Now, since we have facts, why say this about Brahms?

But the connection to Weill? By contrast, Brahms was a composer steeped in history:

Just like Weill, who borrowed from Busoni, who borrowed from Keinzl, who borrowed from Lizst, who... wait.. contrast?

The "Requiem" purposefully borrows Bach's fugues and Beethoven's escalating climaxes...

Why not purposefully imitate Ludwig? Right? He goes down with the most ardor. Ladies.

...in its effort to render its vision of divine comfort universal and timeless.

“My name is Johannes. I like to fugue* and climax. That makes my piece timeless. But you’ll never find that in a history book, because I never said that.”

The group's generous performance ennobled the sentiment, but Weill's brash tabula rasa was a reminder that Brahms's idealism, however well-intentioned, was part of a societal worldview that ultimately led to the trenches of the Great War.

But... but... I... you... wait, what??? He’s a lover not a fighter.

These are the actual causes of World War I: the HMS Dreadnought, Karl Marx, revanchism, irredentism and the Franco-Prussian War, not fugue-ing nor climaxing, nor musical history-having.

Also, Weill's music is not a blank slate (tabula rasa).

For Weill, looking forward was automatically a better view than looking back.

Except that he had to defect from Germany, because he looked forward.

Implied, perhaps: the Nazi’s liked Brahms? Did you know that Schoenberg liked Brahms?

Matthew, I think it would be of great advantage to read one of Arnold's articles, especially the one titled Brahms the Progressive, written in 1947. You can find it in Style and Idea. It’s really good, and progressive, which is awesome, but only in some cases, unlike Weill’s, who had to flee Germany, because he borrowed from Busoni (a socialist), who borrowed from Keinzl, who borrowed from Lizst, who borrowed from Reicha, who borrowed from Salieri, who borrowed from Pescetti, who borrowed from Lotti, who borrowed from Legrenzi.

* In some languages fugue is a four-letter word.


Sator Arepo said...

Awesome post. Wow,

AnthonyS said...


"history-having" is my new favorite construction.

Matthew said...

"Brahms the Progressive" proves my point. Schoenberg, whose worldview was formed in the late 19th century, was eager to claim the mantle of Brahms. Weill, whose worldview was formed during WWI (he was 14 when it broke out) was eager to avoid that mantle like the plague. So even though "Ein Deutsches Requiem" seems benign to us in the US today, it's worth considering that Weill, in Germany in the 1920s, probably saw it as a pernicious reminder of the idealistic German nationalism that fueled the war.

The intellectual atmosphere in Germany prior to the war was an outgrowth of that of the "Requiem": a mystical, optimistic view that the totality of human history had culminated with the rise of the modern German state and the advance of the German people. Yes, the causes of the war were multiple and complex, but a number of historians (Modris Eksteins, for example, who writes about this period better than just about anybody) effectively argue that the German worldview was a big reason, if not the main reason, that Germany a) welcomed, rather than tried to forestall, the outbreak of war, and b) continued to fight the war—often effectively—long past the point a rational assessment of manpower or resources would have deemed practical.

And Karl Marx? Come on, he was dead before Brahms. (Seriously, Socialists were pretty divided as to the prospect of war. Even the German Socialist party only came around to supporting it in the face of overwhelming popular opinion.)

Empiricus said...

Fantastic points. I have only a few things in return.

1. I brought up "Brahms the Progressive" to illustrate his anti-establishment tendencies, the sloughing-off of music-historical worldviews, i.e., the break from oppressive Beethovenian vocabularies. If indeed he was progressive, then he was of the same musical ilk as Weill. But, point taken about the German worldview; I'm sure they were miles apart, there.

2. Marx's theories of capitalist economics paint it as imperialistic, which leads to unlimited competition for expanding markets, thus causing global conflict over natural resources. Deja vu?

Growing resentment of Tsarism (via Marx), forced Tsar Nicolas to side with the Serbs and against the Germans in the hopes of reuniting his people and strengthening his power. His efforts to quickly mobilize an army, in defense of the Serbs, did not go unnoticed by the Germans, who promptly declared war on Russia, the first of the allied powers to be involved. In other words, Tsar Nicolas feared Marxist dissent, which had been growing for decades and threatened to strip him of power. Almost by accident, Marxism was the cause of Nicolas' hasty reaction to Ferdinand.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comments.