The ending to Brahms's Schicksalslied confounds scholars for two reasons: his setting of Hölderlin's ostensibly despairing poem ends with an orchestral section that evokes comfort and reconciliation, and the postlude transposes the material of the introduction down to C major, ending in a key other than its opening. This represents ‘a rare instance of a composer not merely placing an arbitrary interpretation on words but explicitly contradicting a poet's statement’ (Petersen, 1983). Daverio (1993) and Reynolds (2012) hold similar views, seeing Hölderlin's poem as if divorced from the novel Hyperion.
Although the poem marks the chronological endpoint of the novella, it is intricately bound up with levels of time, and it serves a continuous engendering function. The recollection of music in an altered key in Brahms's postlude is apposite to Abrams's notion of ‘the ascending circle, or spiral’. Drawing on musical and hermeneutic analysis, on evidence from Brahms's personal library, and on newly discovered correspondence from Hermann Levi, I argue that Brahms's ‘eccentric path’ – like Hölderlin's – leads us away from the original unity of the work in order to restore it in a heightened manner. The postlude prompts reflection and realization on the part of Brahms's listener akin to that of Hölderlin's reader.