Romanticism: Life Formed in Sound
I have grown to admire the music of Johannes Brahms and Edward MacDowell.   Despite their musical differences, each represents the fantastic, expressive breadth of Romanticism, from the epic 4th Symphony by Brahms to MacDowell's extremely touching Woodland Sketches for piano, especially To A Wild Rose.  

Brahms begins his composition with a concise initial theme that serves as the basis for the entire composition.   After many astounding variations (including a tango!), the closing moments dramatically reprise the initial theme.   Brahm's compositions reflect an absolute mastery of classical form, with an unrelenting developmental drive that astonishes me; for him, the elaboration of a musical idea was far more important than the invention of the idea itself.  When he analyzed the work of aspiring composers, he often masked everything but the melodic and bass material to determine its author's worthiness.  Brahms mastered and then synthesized Boroque, Classical and Romantic forms into his own personal style, distilling the past into his compositions.  Through this crucible, Brahms perfected what many claim is Romanticism's ultimate essence: to waken an infinite, inexpressible longing.  This tremendous achievement accounts for his music's continued longevity in the repertory.

MacDowell, on the other hand, utilized what he considered music's primary quality: The power of "ideal" suggestion.   His talents and intense sensitivity allowed him to make full use of music's amazing descriptive power.   He revealed this even in the smallest compositions for piano, not requiring Wagnarian orchestration or strict form to make his point.   The poignant To a Wild Rose perfectly illustrates his mastery of musical suggestion.   Its simple theme is subtle and tender, and the closing bars seem to drift away.   In Critical and Historical Essays, MacDowell goes further by drawing an analogy between poetry and music:

"For me this (Shakespeare's Winter's Tale) defies analysis, and so it is with some things in music, the charm of which cannot be ascribed to physical or mental suggestion, and certainly not to any device of counterpoint or form, in the musical acceptance of the word."
vistors as of Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 12:35:30 AM PST