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Absolute v Programmatic

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Dear All

 

Please forgive the idiot nature of this question but ...

 

What makes Reger and Brahms exponents of absolute music rather than programmatic music when Reger wrote Chorales (which surely tell a story) and Brahms turned to the organ because it was the only instrument with which he could capture the feelings of his impending death.

 

You are free to say "You are an ignorant fool," and then explain it to me, because it's true, I am :D

 

Best wishes

 

J

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Dear All

 

Please forgive the idiot nature of this question but ...

 

What makes Reger and Brahms exponents of absolute music rather than programmatic music when Reger wrote Chorales (which surely tell a story) and Brahms turned to the organ because it was the only instrument with which he could capture the feelings of his impending death.

 

You are free to say "You are an ignorant fool," and then explain it to me, because it's true, I am :)

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

=============================

 

 

You are an ignorant fool!

 

Aren't we all?

 

Actually, it's a good question and a good point, but knowing where to start presents a problem.

 

One wouldn't have difficulty in describing a Vivaldi Concerto as "absolute music," and yet, "The Four Seasons" is a sort of programme music which tries to paint a musical set of pictures.

 

Beethoven's 5th is absolute, but the 6th (Pastorale), includes all sort of motifs which represent storms, the passing of the storm, peasant songs and such.

 

Liszt's BACH is absolute, the Reubke is actually very close to proper programme music; being based on specific words of the 94th Psalm; yet stylistically, they have great similarities.

 

I would suggest that even Bach used a programmatic element, and in "O mensch bewein" for example, there is the symbolic, agonised, chromatic climb which some say respresents the way of the cross and the climb up Calvery.

 

These things are part of the repertoire; irrespective of the actual period, but strict "programme music" is really the era of Wagner, and other composers such as Respighi.

 

I suspect that the sole intention and quantity of musical/artistic/verbal cross-reference, is what makes the difference. A brief "hunting horn" in a bit of Haydn is hardly a whole afternoon's hunting. With Wagner, it is a combination of visual, verbal and musical art on a grand scale; usually with specific, printed programme notes to keep the audience on side.

 

I would suggest that Reger, (one of my favourite composers), was very much in the "classical" mould, with "form", "structure," "fugal development" and "harmony" at the core of his musical existence, with a fair bit of lyricism thrown in for good measure. I suspect that the Chorales on which many of the big works are based, were the way he kept on track, and brought things back to harmonic earth..... a bit like a Leitmotif in Wagner, but without specific meaning and without some huge, busty blond wearing a helmet, bursting in on the party with a sword in her hand.

 

I think much the same is true of Brahms, who belong to the classical revival school; using forms such as the Passacaglia, which were long dead before he re-discovered them. The 4th Symphony is a tour-de-force of classical form, which one critic described as being like, " grilled not by one, but by two intellectuals at the same time."

 

Anyway, we can end with an interesting question. If an organist is asked to improvise in French style on a submitted theme, and the theme is that from "The Simpsons," is it programme music?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg-aIq597uk :D:lol:

 

MM

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The essential distinction, as generally accepted, is that programme music attempts to express the story (the programme) within the music itself, while absolute music is, well, just music.

 

The term was coined by Liszt, who used it not as a key for the listener, but as a guide to interpretation for the performer. It has, however, been applied generally to any music that sets out overtly to depict a scene or story and, as such, the concept is much older. You can trace programmatic elements back to at least Sumer is icumen in (the "cuccu" phrase) and it is debatable as to when such programmatic elements evolved into something you can call programme music. Into which category does Byrd's The Battle, belong? The rule of thumb taught to me at school was that the first programme music was Kuhnau's Bible Sonatas of 1700 and that seems accepted as a milestone by Grove - though tentatively because of the scope for argument. That would leave Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the "programmatic elements" category. I wonder, too, about Biber's "Rosary Sonatas", which I know only by name. There is a good case, I think, for regarding Reubke's organ sonata as programme music.

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The term was coined by Liszt......

 

========================

 

I didn't know that....thank you.

 

MM

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... What makes Reger and Brahms exponents of absolute music rather than programmatic music when Reger wrote Chorales (which surely tell a story) and Brahms turned to the organ because it was the only instrument with which he could capture the feelings of his impending death.

...

I wouldn't say Reger did not write programme music. He did. There are his Böcklin tone poems, there is his romantic suite following an Eichendorff poem. And there are, of course, his chorale fantasias, which apply the very concept of programme music to the organ -- i. e. they take a pre-existing text (= programme, as in Liszt's "Les Preludes", in Franck's "Chasseur maudit" or in Strauss's "Zarathustra") and write music that, while being more or less formally sound on its own means, takes on a descritptive quality, interpreting and deepening the programmatic text.

 

In other works, Reger apparently communicates something coming close to programmatic content -- the "Inferno" fantasia op. 57, the organ sonatas, the op. 73 variations, the op. 74 string quartet, the Symphonic Prologue etc. But he does not give any hint as to an exact meaning, if he ever had one in mind. Experiences of human suffering, of faith, of struggling with existence are at the core of most of his music, which makes much of it challenging but rewarding to listen.

 

As for Brahms, writing chorale preludes clearly predates any definition and debate about programme music -- it was a baroque concept that, as all baroque music, aims at moving the "affecten" of the listener. Brahms takes the concept in the direction of Schumann's "Charakterstück", communicating a concentrated mood triggered by the chorale's text or overall character.

 

By the way, as much as many of Brahms's organ pieces meditate on death, it needn't be his own. Some of his op. 122 apparently was written in his Düsseldorf years (mid-1850ies), when he, in his early twenties, was the messenger between his friend Schumann -- who lived at the asylum in Endenich -- and the Schumann family, friends and the musical world in general.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I wouldn't say Reger did not write programme music. He did....................

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

=========================

 

 

Friedrich knows his subject doesn't he?

 

I am impressed.

 

MM

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