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Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth

Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth

Christopher Alan Reynolds
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth
    Book Description:

    In this original study, Christopher Alan Reynolds examines the influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on two major nineteenth-century composers, Richard Wagner and Robert Schumann. During 1845-46 the compositional styles of Schumann and Wagner changed in a common direction, toward a style that was more contrapuntal, more densely motivic, and engaged in processes of thematic transformation. Reynolds shows that the stylistic advances that both composers made in Dresden in 1845-46 stemmed from a deepened understanding of Beethoven's techniques and strategies in the Ninth Symphony. The evidence provided by their compositions from this pivotal year and the surrounding years suggests that they discussed Beethoven's Ninth with each other in the months leading up to the performance of this work, which Wagner conducted on Palm Sunday in 1846. Two primary aspects that appear to have interested them both are Beethoven's use of counterpoint involving contrary motion and his gradual development of the "Ode to Joy" melody through the preceding movements. Combining a novel examination of the historical record with careful readings of the music, Reynolds adds further layers to this argument, speculating that Wagner and Schumann may not have come to these discoveries entirely independently of each other. The trail of influences that Reynolds explores extends back to the music of Bach and ahead toTristan and Isolde,as well as to Brahms's First Symphony.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96097-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    As Richard Wagner’s star began to rise, and Robert Schumann’s peeked before beginning its slide downward, their paths crossed for a few years in Dresden. With good reason, no one thinks of them as friends, much less as composers who helped each other develop their own mature styles. By the end of his career, Wagner routinely derided Schumann, especially late Schumann, whom he portrayed variously as mentally weak and too much under the influence of Jewish music, meaning primarily Mendelssohn. This was the argument of his essayJudaism in Music(Das Judenthum in der Musik), which he had initially published anonymously...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Wagner’s Faustian Understanding of Beethoven’s Ninth
    (pp. 17-34)

    WithThe Flying DutchmanWagner came of age as a composer of German opera. The first to make this assertion was Wagner himself, but it is also a viewpoint accepted by generations of scholars and critics since. Several years and a few operas afterThe Flying Dutchman, Wagner described this juncture of his career as “a crucial turning point of my artistic evolution,” and, echoing the language that Beethoven had used at the onset of his middle period, as a “new path” (eine neue Bahn).¹ In his essayA Communication to My Friends(1851), Wagner revealed that the story of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Impact of Beethoven’s Ninth on The Flying Dutchman
    (pp. 35-58)

    Several musical references to Beethoven’s Ninth withinThe Flying Dutchmansupport my assertion that there is a relationship between Wagner’s Dutchman poem and his Goethe-inspired interpretation of the Ninth. These range from the motivic—such as the similarity between the beginning of the Ninth and the beginning of the overture and the Dutchman’s theme shown in example 1.3—to the harmonic and structural. Most generally, there is the key scheme, which moves from D minor to D major, with important emphasis on B♭ along the way. Of thematic relationships, the theme Wagner wrote to represent Senta and her redemptive love...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Wagner, Thematic Dispersion, and Contrary Motion
    (pp. 59-85)

    The connections detailed thus far lend ample support to Wagner’s claim that when he “eventually came to compose the rest of the opera, the thematic image spread itself quite naturally across the entire drama like a complete net.”¹ The “thematic image” in this sense derives from his interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth, and it does indeed spread out over his opera, drawing on his reading of Goethe and on some musical features of each of Beethoven’s movements. Motives from the first pieces he composed—Senta’s Ballad and the sailor choruses—appear dispersed throughout the opera, as Thomas Grey and Werner Breig...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Schumann, Thematic Dispersion, and Contrary Motion
    (pp. 86-106)

    Dresden in 1845–46 was a center of extraordinary musical activity. Wagner and Schumann were both residents, Mendelssohn paid several visits, and Ferdinand David and others also resided or visited there. As their biographers have long recognized, Wagner and Schumann experienced important growth as composers during precisely this year. Incorporating the findings of the preceding chapters, we can summarize Wagner’s growth as follows: conducting and studying the Ninth in the year that he composedLohengrin, Wagner achieved a deeper understanding of the Ninth and became aware of the expressive potential of counterpoint by contrary motion; withLohengrinhe also developed...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Late Schumann, Wagner, and Bach
    (pp. 107-134)

    That the similarities between Schumann’s music from 1845 and Wagner’s fromLohengrinonward are so little recognized is due in large measure to the obscurity that has shrouded Schumann’s later works. The scant attention from scholars, like the scarcity of performances and recordings, continued until recently because of the long-standing impression that Schumann had experienced a mental decline in his final years, a decline supposedly “proved” by the lesser quality of his later compositions. However wrongheaded and biased this view is—the rehabilitative efforts of John Daverio and others have had an impact—Wagner and his advocates worked for decades...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Brahms’s Triple Response to the Ninth
    (pp. 135-159)

    The lessons of counterpoint and thematic dispersion that Wagner and Schumann learned from their study of Beethoven’s Ninth were eventually internalized by the next generation of composers. But in the case of Brahms, who briefly had a chance to study with Schumann and for most of his career was an avid student of Wagner’s music, we have the possibility to test the conclusions of the preceding chapters, not merely to look for signs of contrary motion and thematic dispersion—aspects of his style that are self-evident—but to look for signs that he associated these techniques with Beethoven’s Ninth. If...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Wagner and Schumann
    (pp. 160-170)

    For the stylistic changes that Wagner and Schumann made in the year 1845–46, the two musical lessons of the Ninth examined in this book were equally important. Both counterpoint by contrary motion and thematic dispersion manifested themselves in stylistically important ways. Contrary motion could serve as a musical technique in the construction of a phrase and also as a musical topic, either for military conflict or sacred power; but it could also function as an element of musical order, as when Beethoven steadily increased the density of contrary motion in the formal sections of his first movement, or as...

  13. APPENDIX 1: Citations of Wagner’s Possible Allusions and Influences in The Flying Dutchman
    (pp. 171-173)
  14. APPENDIX 2: Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the First Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
    (pp. 174-176)
  15. APPENDIX 3: Contrary Motion Counterpoint in The Flying Dutchman
    (pp. 177-178)
  16. APPENDIX 4: Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the Fourth Movement of Schumann’s Second Symphony
    (pp. 179-181)
  17. APPENDIX 5: Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the First Movement of Brahms’s First Symphony
    (pp. 182-184)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 185-186)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 187-198)
  20. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-206)
  21. Index
    (pp. 207-212)