Master of Music (MM)
Johannes Brahms composed the op. 10 ballades in the summer of 1854 while living at the Schumann household in Düsseldorf. These pieces are unique within the instrumental ballade repertoire in that they form a collection of ballades published as a single opus. How did Brahms intend the four ballades to cohere as a group, as opposed to a collection of independent pieces? The problem in identifying coherence lies as much within the genre of the instrumental ballade as it does within the musical features of op. 10. These pieces demonstrate a wide range of musical topics, some of which appear diametrically opposed to the epic, ancient associations of the ballade genre. The work’s tonal coherence is also not easy to identify, since the opus stymies monotonal readings by beginning and ending in radically distant tonic regions. Brahms presents the topics of op. 10 sequentially along a spectrum, beginning with the ancient epic topics commonly associated with balladry and ending, in op. 10 no. 4, with fully modern Romantic instrumentalism. This progression forms a topical plot that is consistent with the Romantic trend towards generic fusion that Goethe identifies as a primary feature of the modern ballad. The topical opposition, then, between ancient and modern elements should not be viewed as a challenge to the genre of the op. 10 ballades or as a source of disunity within them, but instead as a necessary component of the genre of the Romantic ballade, as Brahms likely understood it. Likewise, the tonality of op. 10 forms a coherent picture when viewed from the perspective of Schoenberg’s theory of monotonality and the tonal problem.
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Gran, Jacob Joel, "Tonal and topical coherence in Brahms's op.10 ballades" (2014). LSU Master's Theses. 1385.