Saturday morning, November 14, 10–10:50 CST

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Brahms and Beethoven

Frank Samarotto (Indiana University Bloomington), Chair

Musical Logic in the Slow Movement of Brahms’s Second Symphony

Lucy Y. Liu (Illinois Wesleyan University)


In the history of Brahms reception, developing variation—both as technical procedure and as an aesthetic value—has shaped analytical discourse immensely. Except for Schoenberg’s celebrated analysis of op. 51/2, slow movement, scholarship has focused on sonata-allegro movements, where motivic economy and apotheoses that “logically” flow from seemingly inexorable development are routinely praised. But outside the spotlight of first movements, one finds developing variation used for a different end: especially in slow movements, despite pervasive thematic unity and the presence of fully realized rotations, the sort of linear causality and logical entailment associated with typical sonata forms is bypassed in favor of a stream-of-consciousness rhetoric that surprises listeners at every turn. 

Since this facet of developing variation has received less attention, I analyze the Adagio of the Second Symphony. Given its seamless, ever-evolving surface, how can we nevertheless account for the impression that initial ideas do not motivate/determine future events, that important formal/tonal arrivals and climaxes arise fortuitously? I focus on three passages: the opening 32 bars (P-TR), the lengthy retransition, and the much condensed recapitulation. Caplin and Schmalfeldt’s formal-functional recontextualization is my primary tool for explaining how later rotations’ partial, pared-down recalls of earlier material twist a cantabile—if troubled—opening into a tragic yet irresolute ending, at the same time showcasing Brahms’s idiosyncratic handling of the rotational principle. In sum, I demonstrate how even within an environment of developing variation Brahms can consistently problematize continuation and thereby challenge reception history’s simple unity/disunity binary. ---

Revealing the Secret: The Musical Uncanny and its Narrative Implications in the Finale of Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34

Risa Okina (Temple University)

Risa Okina is a recent graduate from Temple University, where she received her Ph.D. in music theory. Dr. Okina has been teaching both written and aural music theory at Temple University. Her dissertation “Brahms and The Uncanny” explores the musical uncanny in the piano chamber music of Johannes Brahms, utilizing the notion of the uncanny from the perspective of the German philosophers Ernest Jentsch and Sigmund Freud. Her primary argument is that the musical uncanny acts as a hermeneutic window to reach a deeper musical meaning.

She has also presented at music conferences, including the Mannes College’s Graduate Student Theory Conference, the Biennial Brandeis University Graduate Student Musicology Conference, the International Brahms Conference in Irvine, CA, and the Music Theory Midwest Annual Conference in June/July 2020.

She is also an active pianist in the Philadelphia Area, where she collaborates with many students for their degree recitals, competitions, and juries at Temple University. She has also performed new music, including works for Temple’s New Music Ensemble and the Philadelphia-based opera company, ENAensemble.

She completed a MM in music theory at Temple in 2015, where she has been serving as an instructor/teaching assistant since 2013 and was a 2014 recipient of the William A. Singer Memorial Award and 2017 recipient of the Dr. B. Stimson Carrow Tribute Award.

She also holds a MM in piano performance at Indiana University South Bend and a baccalaureate degree from the Toho Gakuen School of Music in piano performance (Tokyo, Japan).


This paper will explore the musical uncanny in the finale of Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F minor. Several scholars have contributed to the discourse of music and the uncanny (Cherlin 1993; L. Kramer 1990 and 2002; Cohn 2004; Klein 2005; Smith 2005; Péteri, 2007; Venn 2015). Smith mentions the unheimlich E naturals in the Piano Quartet in C minor, op. 60: “the E naturals instantiate the Unheimliche as an indication of the harmonic and expressive range of the movement and the piece as a whole, and signal an unusual attention to that pitch globally to an extent that remains unresolved within the section or even within the movement” (69). He also explains that the uncanniness is eventually resolved in the coda with a delayed tonal resolution (89). I argue that the uncanny is not something awaiting resolution; rather it invites us on a hermeneutical journey and reflects a composer’s private world, their subjectivity. The notion of das Unheimliche comes from Jentsch and Freud. Jentsch’s uncanny emphasizes a feeling of intellectual uncertainty, in which the uncanny arises when a subject is uncertain about whether an object is alive or not, or real or unreal. Freud’s uncanny has a more complex framing as a combination of feelings, situations, and objects, in which a subject feels something horrifying in what was once familiar. In this paper, I will show how the musical uncanny shapes the narrative of a piece, using the finale of the Brahms’s piano quintet as a case study.

The Eroica Continuity Sketches: A Form-Functional Perspective

Thomas Posen (McGill University)

Thomas Posen is a fifth year Ph.D. Candidate in Music Theory at McGill University with active research in Beethoven sketch studies and compositional process, the history of music theory, and the music of Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin. His dissertation examines and reappraises Beethoven’s compositional process to his Eroica symphony by reconstructing the sketches and analyzing the reconstructions with form-function theory. Thomas has presented his work at numerous national and international conferences including SMT, AMS, multiple regional conferences, and international conferences such as the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Basel, Switzerland, the Modes, Church Tones, Tonality: Tonal Spaces, c. 1550–1720 in Ferrara, Italy (2018), and the Beethoven 2020 Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands (2020). He has won best student paper awards in both music theory and musicology in regional conferences for his work on Leonard Bernstein’s music to West Side Story (1957). He holds a B.M. in Piano Performance, a B.A. in Physics and Astrophysics summa cum laude, and a dual concentration M.M. in Piano Performance and Music Theory from the University of New Mexico.


In this paper, I reconstruct the first three single-line, continuity sketches of Beethoven’s Eroica exposition (Lockwood and Gosman 2013) into “proto-pieces” by realizing the harmonies and textures that the single-voice sketches imply. Using Caplin’s (1998, 2013) theory of formal functions, I analyze these proto-pieces to elucidate and compare Beethoven’s formal and phrase-structural strategies. I argue that the sketches show Beethoven’s multiple innovative approaches for problematizing a lyrical subordinate theme in order to elevate rhetorically the arrival of a new lyrical theme in the development, which parallels Adorno’s analysis of the final published piece (Vande Moortele 2015).

For example, in the first exposition sketch, Beethoven writes a modulating transition that moves chromatically through three distant tonal areas. Thereupon he builds an energetic subordinate theme, part 1 (ST1), while avoiding a lyrical ST2 by bringing back main-theme material in the same keys that were foreshadowed earlier. In the second sketch, Beethoven omits the tonally innovative ST2 from the first sketch and instead writes a fake exposition repeat—a remarkable rhetorical ploy whereby the new ST2 material sounds like a codetta, a re-transition, and a seeming restart of the exposition.

In reconstructing and analyzing the sketches with form-functional theory, I seek a new approach for understanding the Eroica sketches. Instead of characterizing passages in the sketches that differ from the published version as problems that Beethoven revised or purged to create an artistic piece, I valorize them to form a more complete “biography” of the work through its fascinating compositional genesis.