Memory, Hope & Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 9
In an article from 1862 about Brahms’s early compositions, Adolf Schubring called the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 9 “the most worthy Nänie that was ever sung for a master by his pupil.” This description has resonated powerfully since, even though, as Paul Berry (2014) recently pointed out, it “jumbled chronology”: Brahms wrote his Op. 9 in 1854, two years before Robert’s death.
In this presentation, I pay closer attention to that chronology in order to uncover hitherto unexplored interpretive horizons. I reconstruct some of the complex ways in which Brahms and Clara navigated trauma and disability in the wake of Robert’s transfer to an asylum. These circumstances, I argue, inflected the contrapuntal intensity and various kinds of duets staged by Op. 9 as well as other projects from the year 1854.
Ji Young Kim is Associate Lecturer at the ANU School of Music and PhD candidate in musicology at Cornell University. A performer-scholar, she studied historical keyboards with Malcolm Bilson and is writing a dissertation supervised by James Webster that explores intersections between two-hand and four-hand piano music in the Schumann-Brahms circle.