Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Schüssler-Bach, Kerstin. “‘Einige Tropfen Tannhäuserblut’: Die Rinaldo-Kantate von Brahms—Eine Befreiung von Wagner?” Wagnerspectrum 9, no. 2 (2013): 61-80.

Despite the bitter press rivalries between the devotees of Brahms and Wagner, the two composers had a complicated artistic and personal relationship to one another, and they held each other’s music in high regard. Wagner’s 1863 visit to Vienna almost certainly triggered the creation of Brahms’s most “operatic” composition, the cantata Rinaldo, for tenor, men’s chorus, and orchestra. The plot, characters, and musical language of Brahms’s cantata share close similarities with works like Tannhäuser and Tristan und Isolde, and some sections heavily borrow techniques associated with the “New German School.” Nevertheless, Brahms’s engagement with Wagnerian devices in Rinaldo is limited. Much of the cantata maintains close ties to the styles of Beethoven and Schumann, and the “Wagnerian” music is mainly associated with the witch Armida and Rinaldo’s enslavement, rather than his heroism. Furthermore, while the male heroes of Wagner’s operas are often redeemed through a woman’s love, the titular hero of Rinaldo is saved through self-reflection and male comradery, as represented through the robust and forceful music of Brahms’s style. This latter point may reflect the anxieties Brahms felt over perceived “feminine” qualities in Wagner’s music and Wagner himself, which challenged his own sense of masculinity. Just as Rinaldo escapes Armida’s clutches through male companionship and Brahms’s virile music, Brahms himself uses Rinaldo to confront the influence of Wagner’s music, only to overcome it with a reassertion of his own individual style and masculinity in the cantata’s final chorus.

Works: Brahms: Rinaldo, Op. 50.

Sources: Wagner: Tannhäuser (67-70, 72-73, 78-79), Lohengrin (74-76), Tristan und Isolde (76-79); Beethoven: Fidelio, Op. 72 (67, 72).

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Matthew G. Leone

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