Exoticism, artifice and the supernatural in the Brahmsian Lied

Loges, N. (2006) Exoticism, artifice and the supernatural in the Brahmsian Lied. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 3 (2) pp. 137-168. ISSN 1479-4098 (print), 2044-8414 (online)


Perhaps as a consequence of the late-nineteenth-century tendency to differentiate Brahms from the Wagnerian coterie at all costs, his enduring interest in exoticism has received little attention. This is not unreasonable, since his untexted works show no evidence of any foreign links further than Hungary. In addition, for obvious reasons, the specific tropes associated with exoticism, or more specifically orientalism, manifested themselves most clearly through art-forms better equipped to portray specific verbal content, such as opera, literature and painting, none of which is strongly associated with Brahms. Biographically, it is even harder to reconcile Brahms with exoticism, since the connotations of sensuality sit oddly with the bürgerlich North German Protestant work ethic that generally defines perceptions of him. Still, the effect of over 30 years in cosmopolitan Vienna cannot be overlooked; also Brahms was a friend and supporter of artists as well as of musicians. Although Max Klinger and Adolf von Menzel spring primarily to mind, his interest in German painters dated from his early twenties, following his visit to the Schumanns in Düsseldorf. In particular, from the mid-1860s onwards he expressed constant interest in the works of the painter Anselm Feuerbach. Interestingly, both Brahms's and Feuerbach's concept of orientalism, specifically through the Persian poet Hafis, was mediated by the poetry of Georg Friedrich Daumer. This study will explore the simultaneous burgeoning of interest shown by Brahms in his Hafis settings and Feuerbach in his works Hafis vor der Schenke and Hafis am Brunnen in the mid-1860s, as well as the background of the poet who inspired them both.

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