Brahms's Fest- und Gedenkspruche have long been discussed and sometimes dismissed as an occasional work. But although many scholars have debunked this designation, pointing out that Brahms wrote the motets with no particular occasion in mind, a more salient description of the composition deserves further investigation: the motets are a work for occasions, rather than an occasional work. This article looks at the repercussions of this distinction by focusing on the motets' orientation around the world of plurals (in Benedict Anderson's words) that was both presupposed and fostered by a national culture of festivity in late-nineteenth-century Germany. For one, the title of Brahms's motets--Spruche--references the contemporary collections of sayings that sought to capture and disseminate the multiplicity of the Volk in the new German Kaiserreich. This emphasis on national identity as a localized, participatory act was well suited to the flurry of commemorative festivities taking place throughout the newly unified Germany; it also finds musical expression in the motets. In particular, Brahms makes programmatic use of the double chorus to illustrate processes of unification, narration, and historical continuity, all of which were crucial strategies in the attempt to buttress Germany's new political identity with mnemonic supports. And by setting biblical texts that promote a contractual memory between fathers and sons, Brahms depicts a community in which collective participation in remembering the national past serves as an optimistic bulwark against the centrifugal antagonisms that would soon beset the young German nation.
- Copyright ©© 2006 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.