Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William Rothstein

Committee Members

Mark Anson-Cartwright

L. Poundie Burstein

Harald Krebs

Subject Categories

Music Theory


Johannes Brahms, 19th-century German Lied, Text-music Relationships, Musical Narrative


This dissertation explores musical and poetic temporality—expressions of the past, present, and future—in eighteen of Johannes Brahms’s solo Lieder. The selected songs illustrate that common tonal patterns in Brahms’s instrumental music, including tonal and modal ambiguities and associative harmonies, also suggest recurring narrative archetypes in his songs. Separate poetic and musical analyses use literary theory (narratology), as well as Schenkerian analysis and Schoenbergian conceptions of motivic development.

Narratological interpretations of poetry by Daumer, Platen, Köstlin, Goethe, Groth, Schenkendorf, Hebbel, and others first demonstrate that a series of psychological transformations form a lyric poem’s “plot” or “temporal progression.” This subjective level of discourse communicates the poetic protagonist’s perceptions, desires, anxieties, and mental states or incidents. Each poem’s structural features (its tense, syntax, meter, and rhyme) also contribute to its expression of real and implied temporalities. Close readings of each song’s musical structure interpret harmonic processes such as cadentially realized keys, implied keys, and prolonged harmonies as actualizing latent poetic temporalities. These harmonic processes model the protagonist’s non-linear experience of time as memories, dreams, anticipations, and other perceptions distort the ongoing present. Comparisons between Brahms’s songs that share the keys of F minor, B minor, F# minor, and E major suggest that he engaged with his own compositional past through self-modeling. I explore possible intertextual connections between Brahms’s songs and songs by Josephine Lang, Franz Schubert, and Caspar Othmayr, as well as explore Brahms’s engagement with his own compositional past.

My interpretation of the voice and piano as musical agents links each analysis to performance. By realizing conflicts and oppositions between these agents, a singer and pianist might enact the psychological transformations that the poem implies and that Brahms’s musical setting realizes.

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Music Theory Commons