The Expressive Motivation of Meter Changes in Brahms's Lieder
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Metric dissonance in Brahms’s music is not an unfamiliar topic. Hemiola, offbeat accents, and syncopations are Brahms’s common metric strategies. These metric manipulations often facilitate a displacement between the audible and the notated downbeats, leading many scholars to question the importance of Brahms’s notated meters and notated barlines. However, Brahms does not hesitate to change the notated meter when he wants a new one to prevail, especially in his solo songs. Out of 194 songs for solo voice with piano accompaniment written and published during Brahms’s life time, 41 of them involve notated meter changes. This dissertation offers a new perspective on the function and expressive effect of notated meter changes in Brahms’s songs—a topic that has gone largely unexplored in current scholarship on rhythm and meter. I outline three types of meter changes: (1) the brief appearance of a new meter or meters; (2) different meters for sections with different affects; (3) the quick and regular alternation of triple and duple/quadruple meters, a technique typical in Slovakian and Bohemian dances, which Brahms employed to preserve the composite rhythm in folk or folk-like poetry. A close analysis of the notated meter changes in Brahms’s songs reveals how much his careful attention to the notated meter reflects his sensitivity to the pacing of music and words. Drawing upon poetic prosody and metric analysis, this dissertation shows how this pervasive but underexamined aspect of Brahms’s songwriting style relates to both the sound and sense of the poems he sets.