Towards a historically informed performance of Johannes Brahms's Fantasien, Opus 116

Date of Completion

January 2009






The purpose of this study is to examine many different topics that contribute to a historically informed performance of Johannes Brahms's Fantasien, Op. 116. This includes discussions of nineteenth-century performance practice, descriptions of the instruments that Brahms was acquainted with; Brahms as a performer, important literature which discuss the Fantasien, a comparison between different editions of Op. 116; and lastly, a comparison of recordings. The study concludes with how musicians could incorporate this scholarly information into their own interpretation of the Fantasien. ^ The structure of this study is divided into two main sections. The first section provides information which sets the scene for the historical background and provides important information regarding nineteenth-century performance practice. Historical background of Op. 116 gathered correspondences between Brahms and his close friends, such as Clara Schumann, to trace the first mentioning of these late piano works. Following this, an explanation of the different instruments of Brahms's day illustrates the mechanical differences between nineteenth-century Viennese instruments and English-made pianos. The discussion includes Brahms's known preferences for certain instruments. This first section ends with a comparison of various published editions with Brahms's autograph, in order to provide insightful views on Brahms's performance intentions. ^ The second section begins with an overview of literature that discuss different issues presented in Op. 116; including articles by John Rink, Jonathan Dunsby, and Camilla Cai. This synopsis establishes the historical and theoretical views and aspects that scholars have expressed regarding Op. 116 in recent years. The study then compared 12 commercial recordings, dating from 1936 to 2003, in terms of the pianist's treatment of performance issues including phrasing, pedal, tempo, rhythm, dynamic, and expression marking. The comparison aims to trace the change of performance practice from early twentieth century to modern day. The study concludes with performance suggestions for individual piece, and addresses how one could incorporate nineteenth-century practice when performing on modern instruments. ^