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Schumann contra Wagner: Beethoven, the F.A.E. Sonata and ‘Artwork of the Future’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2020

Christopher Reynolds*
University of California, Davis


For Karol Berger

This article begins with an analysis of the ‘F.A.E. Sonata’ (fall 1853), a work for violin and piano composed jointly by Robert Schumann (movements 2 and 4), Albert Dietrich (first movement), and Johannes Brahms, for their returning friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The title of the work derives from the musical motto that Joachim had chosen as his own, representing the words ‘Frei aber einsam’ (free but alone). The analysis identifies the unifying elements of the movements; allusions play a role, especially regarding Beethoven.

The study then proposes that Wagner's 1850 essay ‘The Artwork of the Future’ inspired this collegial effort as a rebuttal to several ideas, suggesting that Joachim took his personal motto as a contradiction of Wagner's statement: ‘The solitary individual is unfree’ (Der Einsame ist unfrei). One of the more intriguing sections for Schumann and his followers was likely the chapter entitled ‘The Artist of the Future’. There he asserts that individuality will never be as consequential as a collective effort, proclaiming that ‘the free artistic community is therefore the basic prerequisite for the artwork itself’. Schumann challenged his devoted disciples to take Wagner at his word and compose something as a collective. The stakes of the dispute between Schumann and Wagner were high: a path into the future that best continued the line connecting both of them to Beethoven. This sonata was composed at the same time as Schumann's article, ‘New Paths’ (Neue Bahnen), which also constitutes a response to Wagner's The Artwork of the Future.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press, 2020

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1 I am grateful for assistance and advice at various stages from Jacquelyn Sholes, Stephen Hinton, Mark Evan Bonds and Karol Berger. I presented an early version of this study at the conference Music as Art: Theory, Philosophy, and the Western Canon: Celebration for Karol Berger on his 70th Birthday, held at Stanford University (28 Oct. 2017).

2 Wagner, Richard, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, trans. Warner, Emma, in the The Artwork of the Future: A Special Issue of the Wagner Journal (London: The Wagner Journal, c. 2012): 42–3Google Scholar. I will use this translation throughout, unless I note otherwise.

3 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 47.

4 Reynolds, Christopher, Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 ‘Wunderbarere Blicke in die Geheimnisse der Geisterwelt’; Robert Schumann, ‘Neue Bahnen’, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 39/18 (Leipzig, 28 Oct. 1853). My translation. This bibliographic reference applies to all subsequent quotations from ‘Neue Bahnen’ in this study.

6 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 43. I have slightly altered Warner's translation of the last sentence of this passage: ‘Auf sie ist kein Fortschritt möglich, denn auf sie unmittelbar kann nur das vollendete Kunstwerk der Zukunft: das allgemeinsame Drama, folgen, zu dem Beethoven uns den künstlerischen Schlüssel geschmiedet hat’. Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (Leipzig, 1850): 94.

7 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 78.

8 ‘Einsam’ might also be translated as ‘lonely’, but for reasons given below, ‘alone’ seems far more apt. I will cite the title of the sonata as ‘F.A.E.’, with full stops after each letter, because that is how it is written on the title page of the manuscript. When referring to the notes of the motive, I will use ‘F-A-E’. At times I will refer to these notes as a motive, when the emphasis is on their musical meaning; at times I will call it a motto, when the emphasis is on the words represented by the notes.

9 Brahms, Johannes, Sonatensatz (Scherzo): für Violine und Pianoforte (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1906; and Berlin: Deutschen Brahms Gesellschaft, 1906)Google Scholar.

10 The translation is from Daverio, John, Robert Schumann: Herald of a “New Poetic Age” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997): 454Google Scholar.

11 Robert Schumann, Tagebücher, vol. 3, Haushaltbücher, part 2, 1847–1856, ed. Gerd Nauhaus (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag fur Musik, 1982). See also Floros, Constantin, Brahms and Bruckner as Artistic Antipodes: Studies in Musical Semantics, trans., Bernhardt-Kabisch, Ernest (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2015): 109–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Daverio, Robert Schumann: Herald, 456 (see also 450–51).

13 Joachim wrote the notes G#-E-A in a letter to Gisela dated 6–7 December 1852; quoted with an accompanying photograph in Uhde, Katharina, The Music of Joseph Joachim (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar: 142–6; Uhde also notes that Joachim's earliest mention of F-A-E occurred in aphorisms he had written in Brahms's Schatzkästlein, a volume with entries made between April 1853 and March 1854 (see, 144 and 167); see also her article, ‘Of “Psychological Music”, Ciphers and Daguerreotypes: Joseph Joachim's Abend-glocken Op. 5 No. 2 (1853)’, Nineteenth-Century Music Review 12/2 (2015): 227–52, at 237–8; and her dissertation, Uhde, ‘Psychologische Musik, Joseph Joachim, and the Search for a New Music Aesthetic in the 1850s’ (PhD diss., Duke University, 2014).

14 Daverio, Robert Schuman: Herald, 141–2. See also, Floros, Constantin, Johannes Brahms, ‘Frei, aber einsam’: Ein Leben für eine poetische Musik (Zurich, Hamburg: Arche, 1977): 55–67Google Scholar; and Rosen, Charles, The Romantic Generation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995): 221–3Google Scholar.

15 On this composition see, Uhde, ‘Of “Psychological Music”’.

16 Regarding the freedom to re-order these three pitches, it is relevant that Joachim once signed Brahms's notebook, his Schatzkästlein, with a version of F-A-E that was F-E-A. This notebook has been translated and published as The Brahms Notebooks: The Little Treasure Chest of the Young Kreisler. Quotations from Poets, Philosophers, and Artists Gathered by Johannes Brahms, ed. Carl Krebs, trans. Agnes Eisenberger (Hilldsale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2003).

17 Among early works of Brahms that feature similar passages are his early songs ‘Liebestreu’, Op. 3 no. 1, and ‘Nachtigallen Schwingen’, Op. 6 no. 6, in the first movement of the Op. 5 Piano Sonata, and in the Op. 10 Ballades, nos. 1 and 4.

18 For a discussion of this example, see Brodbeck, David, ‘The Brahms–Joachim Counterpoint Exchange; or, Robert, Clara, and “the Best Harmony between Jos. and Joh.”’, Brahms Studies 1 (1994): 3080Google Scholar. The example is transcribed on 47.

19 See most recently, McClelland, Ryan, Brahms and the Scherzo: Studies in Musical Narrative (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010): 1.Google Scholar

20 McClelland, Brahms and the Scherzo, 49.

21 McClelland, Brahms and the Scherzo, 49.

22 McClelland, Brahms and the Scherzo, 49.

23 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 78.

24 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 79.

25 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 80.

26 Each of the members of this circle, including also Clara, is represented in this sonata by a musical cypher or motive. I will not make this argument here, both because it would require many more examples and because it is not crucial for the thesis of this study; but Albert Dietrich is represented by motives derived from the musical letters of both of his names. On Schumann and ciphers, see most recently, Uhde, The Music of Joseph Joachim, 141–74 and elsewhere, and Uhde, ‘Of “Psychological Music”’, 244–6. The veracity of the ‘FAF’ motive has been disputed by Michael Musgrave in ‘Frei aber Froh: A Reconsideration’, 19th-Century Music 3 (1980): 251–8. His primary arguments are 1) the only source for this motto is Brahms's biographer Max Kalbeck, and 2) most of the instances of this motto in Brahms's music that Kalbeck cites are intervallically inexact, as in F-A@-F in Symphony no. 3, or F#-A-F# in the First Piano Concerto. But the F.A.E. Sonata contains many chromatic alterations and transpositions of FAE and Gis-e-la, in which the major thirds become minor. It might also be objected that Dietrich's F-A-F is not a motto because it was first introduced a step lower and in the midst of a phrase. Yet, as we have seen, there are other instances of this, as in Dietrich's development section, in which the new theme (Ex. 6) first appears a step away from the ‘correct’ pitches, a distance that is only resolved near the end of the movement. Similarly, in Schumann's finale, the violinist works towards the correct pitches of Gis-e-la, with statements that begin a third low. Regarding the placement of F-A-F somewhere other than at the beginning of a phrase, this too happens with F-A-E, as it had with the Sphinxes in Carnaval. And Uhde discusses transpositions of Gis-e-la in Joachim's Violin Concerto, Op. 3, in The Music of Joseph Joachim, 171–2. For an earlier rebuttal of Musgrave's argument, see Brown, A. Peter, ‘Brahms’ Third Symphony and the New German School’, The Journal of Musicology 2 (1983): 434–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. at 445.

27 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 81.

28 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 82.

29 Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, 45.

30 Wagner, Richard, The Artwork of the Future, trans. Ellis, William Ashton, in Richard Wagner's Prose Works, 8 vols. (London 1895–1912), vol. 1: 96Google Scholar.

31 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 27. My version is close to that of Stewart Spencer: ‘The lonely man is not free, because, in the absence of love, he is fettered and dependent; the sociable man is free, because, unfettered, he is made independent by love’. See, Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, Wagner Androgyne: A Study in Interpretation, trans. Spencer, Stewart (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 17Google Scholar.

32 Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, 33.

33 Wagner, trans. Ellis, The Artwork of the Future, 88.

34 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 23.

35 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 28. For a broader discussion of Einsamkeit in Goethe, and the necessity of isolation for artistic creativity, see Youens, Susan, ‘The “Problem of Solitude” and Critique in Song: Schubert's Loneliness’, in Schubert's Late Music: History, Theory, Style, ed. Bodley, Lorraine Byrne and Horton, Julian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 309–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 28.

37 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 43.

38 Reynolds, Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth, 148–9.

39 Bonds, Mark Even, After Beethoven: Imperatives of Originality in the Symphony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 148CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 30.

41 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 38.

42 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 38.

43 Joachim, Briefwechsel, 1: 95, letter to Herman Grimm dated October 1853. I quote the translation from Uhde, ‘Of “Psychological Music”’, 235.

44 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 42, n. 4.

45 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 42–3; and Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, 93–4.

46 Uhde, ‘Of “Psychological Music”’, 232–3.

47 Daverio, Robert Schumann: Herald, 454.

48 Seyhan, Azade, Representation and Its Discontents: The Critical Legacy of German Romanticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 127CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Seyhan, Representation and Its Discontents, 130.

50 ‘der umgekehrte Name des Vaters Karl’. Seyhan, Representation and Its Discontents, 132. I consulted the Project Gutenberg Etext of Isabella von Ägypten: Kaiser Karl des Fünften erste Jugendliebe (1812), 105; (accessed 19 June 2018).

51 Schumann, ‘Neue Bahnen’. My translation.

52 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 45. Wagner seems to have recognized that ‘Neue Bahnen’ was addressed to him. Many years later in the essay ‘On Conducting’ (1869), Wagner sarcastically referred to Brahms as a ‘Messiah’; Wagner Über das Dirigiren (Leipzig: C.F. Kahnt, 1869–70). On the evolving relationship of Wagner and Brahms, see Sholes, Jacquelyn, Allusion as Narrative Premise in Brahms's Instrumental Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018): 203–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 43.

54 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 43, n. 6; and Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, 96.

55 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 44.

56 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 43.

57 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 14.

58 Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 44.

59 The story of this ill-fated manifesto has been told many times. See, for example, Avins, Styra, Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997): 370Google Scholar; and Sholes, Allusion as Narrative Premise, 204.

60 Reynolds, Christopher, ‘Brahms Rhapsodizing: The Alto Rhapsody and Its Expressive Double’, Journal of Musicology 29 (2012): 191223CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the Wagnerian traits of the Alto Rhapsody, see also Specht, Richard, Johannes Brahms: Leben und Werk eines deutschen Meisters (Hellerau: Avalun-Verlag, 1928)Google Scholar; and Webster, James, ‘The Alto Rhapsody: Psychology, Intertextuality, and Brahms's Artistic Development’, in Brahms Studies 3 (2001): 1946Google Scholar. An earlier version of Webster's article appeared as ‘Der stilistische Ort der Alt-Rhapsodie und ihre Bedeutung für Brahms’ künstlerische Entwicklung’, in Johannes Brahms: QuellenTextRezeptionInterpretation: Internationaler Brahms-Kongress, Hamburg 1997, ed. Friedhelm Krummacher, Michael Struck, et al. (Munich: G. Henle, 1999): 323–42.

61 Ist auf deinem Psalter, Vater der Liebe, ein Ton / Seinem Ohre vernehmlich, So erquicke sein Herz!

62 And further: ‘where the expressive and communicative faculty of our outer physical self reaches its limit, where the particular inner feeling of the heart can no longer be expressed and communicated to the eye, that is where tone of voice takes its vital message to the ear and through our sense of hearing to the feeling heart’. Wagner, trans. Warner, ‘The Artwork of the Future’, 25.

63 ‘Für mich ist f. a. e. ein Symbol geblieben, und darf ich es, trotz allem, wohl segnen;’ letter of Brahms to Joseph Joachim, 5 March 1888. See Floros, Constantin, Johannes Brahms, ‘Free but Alone’: A Life for a Poetic Music, trans. Bernhardt-Kabisch, Ernst (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2010), 5Google Scholar.

64 Schoenberg's essay, ‘Brahms the Progressive’, originated as a radio talk in 1933. He revised it in 1947 and published it in 1950 as a chapter of Style and Idea. For a recent edition, see Schoenberg, Arnold, Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg, 60th Anniversary Edition, ed. Stein, Leonard, trans. Black, Leo, with a forward by Joseph Auner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010): 398–441Google Scholar.