Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Sisman, Elaine R. “Brahms and the Variation Canon.” 19th-Century Music 14 (Fall 1990): 132-53.

In most of Brahms’s writings about variations, he privileged the older styles of Bach and Beethoven and techniques such as keeping the theme pure and using the bass line as the theme. In practice, however, he wrote variations that explored both these older styles and the newer fantasia styles of Schumann and others. In his variations, Brahms sought to reconcile old and new models by writing variation sets in pairs, each with a complementary theme from a different era or style. Brahms’s Op. 23 and Op. 24 Variations on Handel and Schumann themes form one such complementary pair. The two sets from Op. 21 differ in that the first has a newly-composed theme and the second a borrowed theme. The first also borrows the constant-harmony techniques with only occasional melodic references that characterized Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations, Op. 35, while the second recalls Beethoven’s WoO 80 in its eight-bar theme and group of opposite mode variations (where the theme goes into the bass). Brahms’s Op. 9 Variations do not have a pair of individual variations pieces, but contain a synthesis of traditions and an internal pairing or dual persona, marked by the labelling of slower, more introspective movements as “Brahms” and more energetic movements as “Kreisler.”

Works: Heinrich von Herzogenberg: Variations on a Theme of Brahms, Op. 23 (136-38); Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 (141-43), Variations on a Theme of Schumann, Op. 23 (141-43), Variations, Op. 21, Nos. 1 and 2 (144-45), Variations on a Theme of Schumann, Op. 9 (145), String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36 (149-51), String Quintet in G Major, Op. 111 (152-53).

Sources: Beethoven: Variations in C Minor, WoO 80 (144-45), Variations and Fugue in E-flat Major (“Eroica” Variations), Op. 35 (144-45).

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Meredith Rigby

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