Why We Analyse Music, Prof. Julian Horton

This film develops a case study of the dialogue between music analysis and musicology, by exploring ways in which motivic and formal analysis reflect and interact with broader music-historical issues. Looking in detail at the exposition in the first movement of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, it investigates the relationship between functions in a sonata form (main theme, transition, subordinate theme, closing section) and the dense network of motivic counterpoint from which they are constructed (Brahms’s ‘developing variation’). This analysis is then placed in the context of late-nineteenth-century debates about the symphony’s appropriate mode of expression, especially in light of the Wagnerian view that Brahms had wrongly imported a domestic, chamber-musical style into a public genre. This contextualisation underlines music history’s reliance on analytical evidence: Op. 68’s ‘chamber-musical’ character is invisible without the support of formal theory and motivic analysis.

Music Examples

Example 1: Brahms, Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, first movement, main theme, motivic content

Example 2: Brahms, Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, first movement, subordinate theme, motivic content

Example 3: Brahms, Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, first movement, closing section, motivic content

Recommended Recordings

Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, Gesang der Parzen. Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon, 1991).

Suggested Reading

Brodbeck, David, Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Op. 68 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Caplin, William E., Analyzing Classical Form: An Approach from the Classroom (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Frisch, Walter, Brahms: The Four Symphonies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

_____, Brahms and the Principle of Developing Variation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984).

Hepokoski, James and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Horton, Julian, The Cambridge Companion to the Symphony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

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