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Title:The allure of Beethoven's "Terzen-Ketten": third-chains in studies by Nottebohm and music by Brahms
Author(s):Rule, Marie R.
Director of Research:Kinderman, William A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Kinderman, William A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Nettl, Bruno; Stoltzfus, Fred; Syer, Katherine R.
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Johannes Brahms
Gustav Nottebohm
Beethoven sketches
"Hammerklavier" Sonata, op. 106
Nottebohm's Nachlass
Abstract:My primary argument concerns Brahms’s use of a specific musical resource: chains of thirds or “Terzen-Ketten” as this device is sometimes described in the original sources. Brahms used third-chains in various ways as a motivic and harmonic technique. Some of his earlier works, such as the Piano Sonata in C major, op. 1, and the Piano Concerto in D minor, op. 15, already show the use of such chains of thirds as a prominent feature. However, Brahms’s treatment of such “Terzen-Ketten” in his later works shows an especially impressive inventiveness and importance. The ways the chains of thirds are treated often lend to these works a character of intense concentration and melancholy, culminating in the setting of “O Tod,” the third of the Vier Ernste Gesänge, op. 121. I argue that Brahms’s sustained preoccupation with chains of thirds after 1862 was connected to his friendship with the pioneer Beethoven scholar Gustav Nottebohm who facilitated the composer’s access to Beethoven’s sketch materials for the “Hammerklavier Sonata” op. 106. Through Nottebohm, some of Beethoven’s sketches for op. 106 passed into Brahms’s personal collection of musical sources. It is remarkable that Brahms also acquired the autograph score of Mozart's G minor Symphony and the corrected copy of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, op. 123—two other celebrated works which make prominent use of chains of falling thirds. Gustav Nottebohm’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s sketches represented a major contribution to musicology in the late nineteenth century. Some of these transcriptions appeared with his commentary in issues of the Allgemeine Musikalisches Zeitung and the Musikalisches Wochenblatt in the 1860s and 70s; other studies were published as short monographs. As the surviving sources show, Brahms took an interest in these transcriptions and helped arrange for their publication. Brahms and Nottebohm socialized often and shared a strong interest in Beethoven’s creative process. An original sketchbook for parts of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata op. 106 containing a prolonged “Zirkel-Ketten” (or circle-chain) of descending thirds became one of the prized treasures of the composer’s collection. Brahms’s fascination with such descending third-chains is evident in many of his late works, and his use of this device in the Fourth Symphony bears close comparison with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata. My dissertation presents new findings on Beethoven’s use of “Zirkel-Ketten” drawn from Nottebohm’s posthumous papers (Nachlass) at the Gesellshaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna as well as previously unpublished correspondence between Nottebohm and Brahms. This material provides support for my argument that Nottebohm played a key role in enabling the composer’s study of Beethoven’s sketch materials, which was bound up in turn with the composer’s intensive exploration of “Terzen-Ketten” and their subsequent incorporation and development in his later compositions. The second part of my dissertation offers analytical investigation of third-chains in the late works of Brahms. Following an examination of descending third-chains in Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, op. 106 and Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, op. 98—two works frequently cited for their pervasive use of this device—I discuss selected examples from the later instrumental and vocal works of Brahms, some of which have received much less attention in the literature. Descending third-chains are used poignantly in texted works like “Feldeinsamkeit,” op. 86 no. 2, and the Vier Ernste Gesänge, op. 121, especially “O Tod, wie bitter bist du,” no. 3. An even more elaborate treatment of chains of falling thirds—or their inversion as rising sixths—occurs in instrumental works including the piano Fantasien, op. 116, the Klavierstücke, op. 118 and 119 and the Clarinet Sonata in F minor, op. 120 no. 1. In op. 116 the use of such “Terzen-Ketten” contributes importantly to the integration of the seven pieces, which can be heard as a larger work or cycle, despite the powerful contrasts between the successive pieces. Brahms’s lifelong preoccupation with chains of thirds reaches a remarkable climax in this cluster of works from his final years.
Issue Date:2011-08-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Marie R. Rule
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-08-25
Date Deposited:2011-08

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