The book “Brahms in the Priesthood of Art: Gender and Art Religion in the Nineteenth-century German Musical Imagination,” written by Coordinator of Music Literature and Associate Professor of Music History and Literature Laurie McManus, Ph.D., and published by Oxford University Press, received a positive review in the March 2022 issue of Choice Magazine.
This is an exhaustive examination of attitudes governing the critical reception of Brahms’s music and persona from the latter part of the 19th into the 20th century. McManus (Shenandoah Conservatory, Shenandoah Univ.) demonstrates that Brahms was viewed as the embodiment of the post-Romantic cult of the visionary priest of art, a man whose pure dedication to his calling included bachelorhood and detachment. The author discusses the Schumann circle to which the early Brahms was often related and also the performance practices of performers like Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann. Some viewed the priest of art as the creator of cold and detached music. McManus examines these opposing musical theories, including those of Liszt and the Wagner circle. She offers fascinating information about Brahms’s long and futile search for a popular opera libretto. Citing letters and reviews, the author traces later evaluations of Brahms’s art, which were influenced by theories about the importance of such psychological factors as childhood trauma and environment on character. In Brahms’s case, these rely on the composer’s reported experiences at a young age, playing the piano and being cosseted by prostitutes at unwholesome nightspots in Hamburg. McManus has produced an excellent contribution to Brahms scholarship.
– E. G. Wickersham, emerita, Rosemont College