Abstract

Although it has long been accepted that the 1854 version of Brahms's B-Major Piano Trio contains references to Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's Schwanengesang, it has escaped notice until now that the piece also alludes, clearly and in a structurally significant manner, to Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in C Major, K. 159. Strong musical evidence for this additional allusion is corroborated by Brahms's long-term, multifaceted engagement with Scarlatti's music as demonstrated by his correspondence, music library, performance repertoire theoretical studies, and other compositions. The revisions Brahms made to the Trio in 1889 are also highly suggestive: for the first time, the three theme groups replaced by altogether new material can be understood to correspond precisely to those containing the clearest allusions to the music of other composers.

Identification of the Scarlatti reference necessitates reevaluation of the oft-proposed idea that the Trio's song references function as a lament for Brahms's own ““distant beloved,”” Clara Schumann. The reference to Scarlatti, while potentially supportive of such a program, also suggests an alternative interpretation: perhaps the Trio's allusions are best understood within the context of the young composer's struggle to reconcile his relationship to his predecessors in the heady period surrounding the publication of Schumann's ““Neue Bahnen.”” If the original Trio represents an elegy for the musical past, rather than——or even in addition to——a lament for Clara, then the 1889 revisions, no longer to be understood simply as Brahms's attempt to expunge an embarrassing confession of love, must be considered in terms of the historical perspective of the mature composer.

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