Evolution versus Authenticity: Johannes Brahms, Robert Franz, and Continuo Practice in the Late Nineteenth Century

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Abstract

The early-music revival provoked much heated debate in the second half of the nineteenth century. The leading scholars of the era, Philipp Spitta and Friedrich Chrysander were keen to encourage performances and editions of early music that presented it in the spirit in which it was conceived. This approach met with vociferous opposition from Robert Franz and his supporters, who embraced a Darwinian aesthetic. Although committed to reviving the past, Franz believed that the tastes of nineteenth-century listeners had become too sophisticated to enjoy early music in its original state and modernized it accordingly. The source of the most heated debates was the issue of continuo realization, a topic in which Brahms, through his performing and arranging activities, had a vested interest. Franz, who dismissed the musicologists as artistic philistines, found a difficult adversary in Brahms. Brahms's scholarly inclinations have been well documented, and predictably, his approach to reviving Baroque music reflected a high level of historical awareness. He was, however, first and foremost a creative musician, and as a consequence, aesthetic issues were paramount in his performances and publications. Considerable tensions arose between Franz, and Brahms, and Chrysander, which are explored here in relation to the latter's editions of Handel's Italian duets and trios. The difficulties surrounding continuo practice were not confined to opposition from Franz; even among musicologists there was much disagreement about how the music should be performed. Brahms's approach to continuo realization is considered in this context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-204
Number of pages23
Journal19th-Century Music
Volume30
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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