Brahms' Third Symphony: The Revolution of Self-Expression in Music

Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences



ORCID Identifier(s)


Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 2022


This paper examines Brahms’ utility as a musical transition between every budding musical era that came after him, using contexts and foundations collected, built, and developed by Lodges (2019), Avins and Eisinger (1997), Bozarth (1990), Frisch (1990, 1984), MacDonald (1990), and Geiringer (1963). It explores his personal life and critical appeal to illuminate how his passions and unique position in time enabled him—like Beethoven whom he aimed to succeed—to push the musical tools at his disposal in such a way as to carve a new trunk in musical history. It details how Brahms used his third symphony both to musically describe his loss of, and preface his restitution with, Joseph Joachim. This symphony serves as his own theme, a sort of therapeutic conversation with and response to the people in his various circles—the first of its kind.

Analyzed through its visually stimulating warm-and-dark/cold-and-light motific form, unique use of instruments, and harmonic developments, this masterwork creates a somewhat immersive and timeless appeal, held with extremely high regard by critics at its premiere, and by musicians of all backgrounds today. However, by taking an account of letters written and received by Brahms, and his history, and combining these with an emotion-charged musical analysis, we discover how this single piece propelled the art form into a future wherein aural expression could be used to share endlessly varied and simultaneous levels of individualistic and pluralistic thematic meanings, discover inward and outward musical connections, and evoke visceral emotional-expression and ambiguous interpretation.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Mitchell Calderone is a music education major from NW Indiana whose interest in music theory and psychology brought him to deeply consider the internal driving forces behind music performance and composition. His philosophy of education is based on the idea of emotional autonomy, and he strives to provide the next generation with the tools to realize their desired potential.

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