Guest Lecture: Nicole Grimes (University of California, Irvine)

Event Date: 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 3:30pm to 4:45pm

Event Date Details: 

Event Location: 

  • Music Room 1145 (UCSB)

Event Price: 

Free and open to the public.

Event Contact: 

Adriane Hill
Marketing and Communications Manager
UC Santa Barbara Department of Music
(805) 893-3230
Johannes Brahms (1882)
Johannes Brahms (1882)
Nicole Grimes, Assistant Professor of Musicology at UC Irvine, will present a talk entitled "A Disembodied Head for Mythic Justice: Brahms, Tantalus, and Gesang der Parzen," on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 from 3:30-4:45 p.m. in Music Room 1145. This talk is presented by the Music History and Theory Forum. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
In correspondence with his friend, the surgeon and violist Theodor Billroth, Brahms explained that he wished to conceal any association with Goethe’s play Iphigenie on the title page of his work for chorus and orchestra, Gesang der Parzen Op. 89. Scholarship has been slow to take the composer at his word on this matter, instead associating Op. 89 with Goethe’s (and Euripides’s) Iphigenie setting(s). Scholarship has also discounted the connection Brahms established between the Parzenlied and Goethe’s Juno Ludovisi, disregarding the fact that the head of Juno once belonged to a statue just as the poem Brahms set once belonged to Goethe’s drama.
Aesthetic contemplation of the Parzenlied in and of itself when divorced from Goethe’s play reveals it to recount the tale of the Fall of Tantalus in Classical mythology which is analogous to the notion of original sin in the Christian realm. This tale of divine justice and eternal punishment is retold in many of the books in Brahms’s library (including Homer, Ovid, Aeschylus, and Sophocles). My analytical reading of Brahms’s composition shows that, like Tantalus, Gesang der Parzen steadfastly refuses to allow the listener to touch that which seems to be within their reach, from the sense of consolation the major modality offers in the setting of the fifth stanza to the ostensible tonality of the entire piece—D minor. Instead, this most desolate composition seems to offer only emptiness.
Brahms persistently associated the Parzenlied with the Book of Job. This juxtaposition of Biblical and mythical tales of divine punishment in relation to this secular choral work provides a broad hermeneutic context for exploration, one which further resonates with certain artworks of the Italian Renaissance with which Brahms was deeply preoccupied at the time of writing Gesang der Parzen. This paper offers an analytical and hermeneutic interpretation of Brahms’s richly multifaceted composition.
Nicole Grimes studied historical musicology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich. She was awarded a PhD at TCD in 2008 for her dissertation “Brahms’s Critics: Continuity and Discontinuity in the Critical Reception of Johannes Brahms.” Since that time, her research has focused at the intersection between German music criticism, music analysis and music aesthetics from the late-eighteenth century to the present day. She is particularly fascinated by the intertextual relationship between music and philosophy, and music and literature. She is currently finishing a book called Brahms’s Elegies: The Poetics of Loss in German Culture which is concerned with the reciprocal relationship between Brahms’s music and the Austro-German intellectual tradition.
Grimes is also engaged in writing a monograph on Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121. She has published articles on Brahms, Schoenberg, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and topics in music aesthetics in various peer-review journals including Music Analysis, and Nineteenth-Century Music Review, amongst others. Her books include Rethinking Hanslick: Music, Formalism and Expression (co-edited with Siobhán Donovan and Wolfgang Marx), and Mendelssohn Perspectives (co-edited with Angela R. Mace). She has been the chair of the organizing committee for a number of high profile international conferences including “Eduard Hanslick: Aesthetic, Critical, and Cultural Contexts” (University College Dublin, 2009) and “Music, Marxism, and the Frankfurt School” (University College Dublin, 2014, in association with the University of California, Irvine).
Other research that Grimes is currently undertaking includes a large-scale project called “The Constellation of Aesthetic Humanism in German Music: History, Memory, and (Non-)Linear Time.” She is also writing a chapter on the music of Donnacha Dennehy for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Spectral Music.
Since 2015 Grimes has been a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Music Analysis. Before taking up her post at UCI, she held faculty positions at Royal Holloway, University of London, University College Dublin, and Keele University. From 2011–2014 she was a Marie Curie Fellow, funded by the European Commission, with joint affiliation at the University of California, Irvine and University College Dublin.


Johannes Brahms (1882)