Volume 21, Issue 1 | Spring 2022

Max Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie:
The Physiological Sublime, Embodiment, and Male Identity

by Marsha Morton

Terrified individuals drown and cascade down cliffs to a monster-filled abyss in imagery that visualizes a musical score of thunderous sounds composed by Johannes Brahms (1833–97) (figs. 1, 2). These are far removed from the scenes of verdant nature, romance, and decorative arabesques that traditionally illustrated scores in Germany during the early nineteenth century.‍[1] They are the agonistic visions of Max Klinger (1857–1920), who, in his credo Malerei und Zeichnung (Painting and Drawing) from 1891, declared that music, poetry, and the graphic arts were uniquely suited to subjectively probe life’s “dark side” with its futility, injustice, and despair.‍[2] Three years later these convictions were realized with the completion of the Brahmsphantasie (1888–94), a bound album of thirty-seven pages, which includes these images and others, totaling twenty-three lithographs and eighteen intaglio prints (etchings, engravings, aquatints, mezzotints, and drypoints) interspersed with the musical scores of five of Brahms’s Lieder (songs), selected and arranged by Klinger, as well as the piano-vocal transcription of the choral-orchestral Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), opus 54 (1871; fig. 3), suggested by Brahms. This latter work was composed to the text of the poem-song Schicksalslied from the epistolary novel Hyperion by Friedrich Hölderlin (published in two volumes in 1797 and 1799).‍[3]

Unless otherwise noted, the illustrations are in the collection of the Davison Art Gallery, Wesleyan University; these are in the public domain.

The border images to the musical scores do not have titles provided by the artist. These are descriptive, based on past references originating in Hans Wolfgang Singer,
Max Klinger: Radierungen Stiche und Steindrucke (Etchings Engravings and Lithographs) 1878–1903, trans. Bernd K. Estabrook (1909; repr., San Francisco:
Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1991).
figure 1
Fig. 1, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), border, Man and Woman Drowning, p. 26. Lithograph.
figure 2
Fig. 2, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), border, Men Falling, p. 28. Lithograph.
Fig. 3, Johannes Brahms, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) for chorus and orchestra, op. 54, composed 1871, conducted by Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, recorded on January 25, 2017. Available from YouTube, www.youtube.com.

The Brahmsphantasie opens with a full-page print, Accorde (Chords or Accords), followed, after two blank pages, by the five Lieder, with pictures of various sizes inserted throughout the scores—usually along borders—that portray a contemporary world of desire, loss, reflection, and failed relationships.‍[4] This section closes with another independent print, Evocation, whose imagery of a piano, male pianist (Klinger), woman, and stormy sea—a vision unleashed by the music—reprises and transforms Accorde to a setting in which the sky is filled with writhing bodies in battle.‍[5] The roiling heavens provide a transition to the next part: six full-page prints of events from the saga of Prometheus and a seventh page (Homer) on which Hölderlin’s poem Schicksalslied is printed adjacent to a coastal scene depicting an aged nude Homer standing amid corpses of Titans on a beach under an enthroned cloud-borne Juno and Zeus. This picture, as well as the experience of Prometheus, alludes to the poem, the theme of which is suffering and helplessness as a human condition—associated in the novel with love’s loss—in comparison to the superior “blessed gods.” The remaining pages of the Brahmsphantasie contain the piano-vocal score of Schicksalslied illustrated with scenes of landscapes and figures that are primarily dystopian, thereby rendering archetypal the contemporary situations depicted in the Lieder illustrations. The volume concludes with a final print, Prometheus Freed (fig. 4), featuring a traumatized hero with head in hands seated next to Hercules, his liberator. Scholars have continued to debate the work’s structure (two or three parts) and interpretation, while music historian Jan Brachmann has more recently suggested that the essential framework is anchored by the relationship among three of the independent prints (Accorde, Evocation, and Prometheus Freed), all of which include self-portraits and appear at the beginning, middle, and end of the entire volume.‍[6]

figure 4
Fig. 4, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Prometheus Freed, p. xxxvii. Etching, engraving, mezzotint, and aquatint.

The earliest drawing for the Brahmsphantasie (Prometheus Freed) dates to 1885, when Klinger was living in Paris, but most of the project was created during Klinger’s years in Rome, from 1888 to 1893. It represents the culmination of his preoccupation with the composer, whom he had admired since his teen years and determinedly pursued, gifting him artworks and dedicating to him the illustrations for Amor und Psyche (Cupid and Psyche), op. 5 (1880).‍‍[7] By 1886, two of Brahms’s song collections (opuses 86 and 96) were printed with title pages by Klinger, a commission facilitated by Brahms’s Berlin publisher, Fritz Simrock. Klinger and Brahms first met that year in Leipzig, where Klinger had traveled from Paris to attend the performance of Brahms’s Symphony no. 4, conducted by the composer at the Gewandhaus on February 18. A correspondence and warm friendship developed, with Klinger visiting Brahms in Vienna in April 1894 and Brahms dedicating to Klinger his cycle Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), op. 121 (composed in 1896). The Brahmsphantasie, though not completed in time, was planned as a commemoration of Brahms’s sixtieth birthday on May 7, 1893. Only five copies were initially printed early in 1894, followed by a second edition of 150 in October. These were intended for the discriminating collector who could read music and even play the piano score while viewing the images. Brahms treasured the work and documented his feelings in letters, though reactions among his supporters were mixed, as discussed below.

The Brahmsphantasie can be regarded as an interchange among kindred artists who interpretively transposed the mood and content of one medium into another. Brahms responded to Hölderlin’s melancholy spirit, Hyperion’s ultimate renewal, and, possibly, even the writer’s theory of tonal changes, while Klinger asserted that he sought to capture the “Stimmungsgehalte” (emotional tenor) of the poem and music, and “from there look around, continue, connect, or complete.”‍[8] This is in keeping with the title “fantasy,” or imagination, a form of thought that shuns logic and conforms with Klinger’s definition of the graphic arts, which communicate through “ideas and associations.”‍[9] In this case, Klinger amplified, or “continued,” the themes of the Schicksalslied with imagery evoking the sublime and the tale of Prometheus and the Titans, who are additionally mentioned in Brahms’s Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates), op. 89 (1883), while Hyperion is the name of the Titan of light. “Phantasie” also signals Brahms’s admiration for Klinger, whose work he praised in 1886 for its “rich invention, full of fantasy, which is at once of such splendid seriousness and such profound meaning, and at the same time invites further thought and reflection.”‍[10]

Brahms played a central role in determining the theme of human limitations and suffering by selecting Hölderlin’s poem and then by perceptively suggesting to his publisher Simrock in 1885 that either his Schicksalslied or Gesang der Parzen, likewise a composition for choir and orchestra, based on a text from Goethe’s play Iphigenia on Taurus, would be the most suitable material for Klinger’s artistic proclivities.‍[11] Indeed, Klinger had recently completed his series Dramas (1883), whose content of personal tragedy, violence, and social injustice in modern Berlin was introduced with a title page of mythological characters inscribed with a quote from the third stanza of Hölderlin’s Schicksalslied: “Yet we are given no place to rest.”‍[12] In choosing compositions to texts by German Hellenic humanists (Goethe and Hölderlin) writing at the turn of the nineteenth century, Brahms opted for a period from which both he and Klinger derived artistic inspiration. Among Klinger’s favorite authors were Jean Paul (1763–1825) and E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). Brahms and Klinger, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, were in a small, elite circle of Hölderlin admirers, a writer not broadly recognized until the twentieth century.‍[13]

Klinger described his pictures in vague terms as associational, but their inspirations can often be more precisely located. Images are occasionally derived from the specific content in the poems, while their designs sometimes mirror the musical compositions structurally and visually on the page, as has been brilliantly analyzed by Brachmann. This essay will argue that Klinger’s imagery in the Brahmsphantasie was also attentive to Edmund Burke’s sublime, particularly its physiological aspects—the situated body in peril and pain within apocalyptic landscapes, such as earthquakes, landslides, droughts, and drownings depicted in the Schicksalslied images—which resonated with contemporary interests in neurology and music. In so doing Klinger positioned Brahms as a composer of passion, tragedy, and eros, rivaling the progressive music of Richard Wagner, whose supporters were attacking the potency of Brahms’s music, and he interrogated gendered associations of the sublime to construct a transformed model of masculinity and human behavior that destabilized rational control and heroic dominance. The sublime presented conflicting options regarding male identity. It was described by Burke as characterized by ruggedness, power, and vastness in contrast to beauty, which Burke identified with objects that trigger feelings of love (i.e., women, regarded from the assumed viewpoint of heterosexual men): smallness, smoothness, softness, and delicacy.‍[14] At the same time, however, the sublime was primarily defined by its power to overwhelm and incapacitate reason.

The sublime was a central topic of debate at this time, when the legacy of Beethoven (the exemplar of sublime music) was being contested between supporters of Brahms and Wagner, and Nietzsche in 1888 had launched an attack on both composers as well as the sublime and its impact on nerves and muscles.‍[15] Klinger’s strategy, it should be noted, was not appreciated by many of Brahms’s supporters, such as music critic Eduard Hanslick, for whom Wagner’s music was pathological and Brahms was considered the apogee of formalist absolute instrumental music.‍[16] At the same time, Klinger allied himself with Brahms’s defenders in asserting that the composer and his music were “manly” and virile, like Beethoven, rather than impotent and chaste, as Nietzsche and his followers claimed.‍[17] Many of these were a younger generation who derided Brahms’s work as cold “brain music”; they valued instinct and emotion over reason.‍[18] For some critics, Brahms’s emerging late style toward the end of the 1880s was perceived as signifying decline.‍[19]

Klinger’s figural poses and expressions were also predicated on the belief that music is an embodied experience. As an amateur musician who kept a piano in his studio, Klinger had personal knowledge of the physical responses to hearing and playing Brahms. Discussions of music’s effects on the body were rooted in studies of the physiological and psychological effect of sound on nerves, muscles, and blood circulation, introduced in Burke’s theories of the sublime, continued in discussions by Johann George Sulzer and Johann Gottfried Herder during the late eighteenth century, applied to Beethoven, and expanded by the scientific experiments of Hermann von Helmholtz during the 1860s. As will be seen, compositional techniques, such as dissonance and abrupt key changes, were associated with pain and the musical sublime. My interpretation of the Brahmsphantasie is consistent with perceptions of Brahms’s music by his contemporaries as difficult to understand and demanding to perform, and with Klinger’s reputation as an artist preoccupied with human behavior, nerves, and drives, as well as his turn in the late 1880s to a focus on the nude body as the “alpha and omega” of art and, possibly, his new interest in the sculpture of Rodin during his years in Paris (1883–87).‍[20] Rodin’s figures provided Klinger with a prototype for forms that were the product of psychophysiology.

Klinger’s images of male behavior inspired by Brahms’s music will also be considered within the German context of alternative notions about masculine identity and the conflicting directions of the Lebensreform (life reform) movement, focused on regeneration through nature, and Wilhelmine triumphant nationalism. Klinger, it will be shown, presented athletic classical bodies in non-heroic states of physical and mental anguish, traumatized by loss and defeat. They were created at a moment of transition in the arts between academic tradition and modernism (as were the pathological bodies of suffering in Edvard Munch’s paintings of the 1890s and in Viennese and German Expressionism), just as Brahms’s music combined a classical tonal foundation with harsher chromatics and dissonance that would lead, according to Anton Weber, to Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.‍[21]

Burke and the Physiological Sublime

The adjective sublime has been applied to the Brahmsphantasie, whether in censure or praise, since the time of its creation, when the concept was central to intellectual debates in Germany. Routinely grouped with tragedy, profundity, and artistic suffering, it also became a code word among Brahms’s supporters for branding him the successor to Beethoven (the composer, Brahms noted, of “pathos [and] sublimity”).‍[22] It played a significant role in the early philosophy of Nietzsche, who, in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), bracketed the sublime with Dionysus, whose music “excited awe and terror”; Homer; and “the eternal suffering” of Prometheus.‍[23] For Wagner, Beethoven was “the second Prometheus.”‍[24] During the mid-1880s, it should be remembered, Klinger began working on his famous Beethoven statue, later exhibited at the 1902 Vienna Secession, with its reference to Prometheus, rocks, and eagles.

Brahms underscored the association of the Brahmsphantasie with the sublime when he praised Klinger’s images because they expanded the music “further into the infinite” with an equivalent “mystery and foreboding.”‍[25] Hölderlin’s poem laid the foundation, with the concluding words in the second and third stanzas, “Ewiger Klarheit” (eternal clarity) and “Ungewisse” (uncertainty), chosen to distinguish between the realms of gods and humanity in terms evoking Burke’s concepts of beauty and the sublime in their praise of the obscure and unresolved over the clearly defined. Hölderlin was well versed in these theories. He was a friend of Carl Friedrich Lessing, who began a translation of Burke into German, and Friedrich Schiller, whose essay “On the Sublime,” defined it, as historian Matthew Rampley has noted, as an existential condition: “This is the case of Man. Surrounded by innumerable powers which are all superior to him.”‍[26]

The Brahmsphantasie is introduced with Accorde (fig. 5), a scene that announces central themes of the work: the dual realms of the contemporary world (the pianist and woman with outstretched arms) and the mythic (the triton and nereids in the water), as well as the sublime elements conjured by the music. Klinger depicts both the objects that trigger the sublime, as has been frequently mentioned, such as the towering mountains, stormy seas, and thoughts of mortality (via similarities with Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, which Klinger engraved), as well as the physical responses to it, seen in the grimacing triton gripped by painful tensions of muscles and nerves and the expression of shock or horror on the harp’s tragic mask.‍[27] The inclusion of the piano and harp, repeated and foregrounded in Evocation (fig. 6), references the significance of vibrating musical strings, which functioned as analogies for nerves and the formation of sensations in physiological and medical theories during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.‍[28] The sea, associated via Arthur Schopenhauer—Klinger’s favorite philosopher—with the instinctual unconscious and through Klinger’s art with erogenous zones, was an essential aspect of the sublime. Water appears repeatedly in the Brahmsphantasie and is a setting that unites Accord, Evocation, and Prometheus Freed.‍[29]

figure 5
Fig. 5, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Accorde, p. i. Engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint.
figure 6
Fig. 6, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Evocation, p. xv, etching, engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint.

Burke’s book, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published in 1757 and translated into German by Christian Garve in 1773, was written to investigate the psychology of human behavior. His goal, as stated in the introduction, was to conduct “a diligent examination of our passions” in order to determine the “properties of things” that “influence those passions” and how they “are capable of affecting the body.”‍[30] In contrast to earlier writers on the sublime, such as Longinus, Burke’s emphasis was on sensory experience rather than mental elevation. He maintained that the instinct for self-preservation (Prometheus’s predicament) engendered the experience of the sublime and was manifested by sensations of astonishment, terror, and pain. The sublime was elicited by conditions of power, obscurity, darkness, infinity, chaos, and difficulty. Examples cited by Burke and depicted by Klinger in the Brahmsphantasie include death, night, oceans, towers, rocks, and storms, to which were added deserts, volcanoes, hurricanes, and galactic systems by Kant in his Critique of Judgement (1790) and Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation (1818).

Burke devoted an extensive discussion to the physiological response triggered by the sublime, influenced by his wide reading in publications on neurology and medicine by George Cheyne, David Hartley, and his friend, the physician Christopher Nugent.‍[31] He maintained that pain and intense fright produced identical physical responses of unnatural tensions, which could lead to spasms and convulsions: “a tension, contraction, or violent emotion of the nerves” and “a violent pulling of the fibres, which compose any muscles or membranes.” As examples he described faces distorted in fear, “teeth set, eyebrows violently contracted, and forehead wrinkled,” as later demonstrated by Klinger’s Drowning Couple (fig. 1).‍[32]

Above all, and especially significant with regard to the Brahmsphantasie, Burke considered the sublime to be an experience in which the faculties of reason are incapacitated: the mind, “hurrie[d] . . . on by an irresistible force,” can no longer “reason on that object which employs it [the mind itself].”‍[33] Temporarily, mankind devolves into the physical self. Burke stated that “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”‍[34] The sublime renders humans helpless and without control in the face of a superior opposition, threatening domination, and destruction. This, of course, is the theme of the Schicksalslied and the fate of Prometheus and the Titans, who fight and die in Titans (fig. 7) and whose bodies litter the surf in Homer. Burke’s ethos of the embodied sublime and the sounds of Brahms’s music are strikingly evoked in the scenes from the Prometheus myth, which feature figures under siege or despondent, sometimes inhabiting a primordial and amorphous universe of darkness (first and second versions of Night; fig. 8). Klinger, in accordance with Burke, who associated the sublime with the irresistible drives of “desire or lust,” regarded eros to be a force against which individuals were at their most vulnerable and experienced the greatest anguish and loss.‍[35] Tellingly, the harps in Accorde and Evocation are decorated with tragic masks and small, winged cupids. Encounters with passion were never benign, as with the goddess Aphrodite in Beauty (Aphrodite) (fig. 9), whose domain is the turbulent sea that Klinger equated with power, or the experiences of failed love recounted in the Lieder.‍[36]

figure 7
Fig. 7, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Titans, p. xvi. Etching, engraving, and mezzotint.
figure 8
Fig. 8, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Night, first version, 1894. Etching and aquatint. Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich. Image courtesy of the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich.
figure 9
Fig. 9, Max Klinger Brahmsphantasie, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Beauty (Aphrodite), p. 27. Engraving.

The physiological sublime can also be alluded to through its opposite, the loss of the bodied self, which Klinger depicts in his images for Feldeinsamkeit (Solitude in a Field; composed to a poem by Hermann Allmers), op. 86, no. 2 (1879; fig. 10), which present rare moments of seeming tranquility and the incorporeal. He matches the stillness and melancholy mood of the song (fig. 11), which ends with thoughts of death that Brahms underscores through octaves, with scenes that portray individuals diminished through an encounter with the sublime. A prone man gazes up into infinite space and dissolves into the earth, while, to his right, a towering sculpture of a satyr looms above a tiny spectral figure kneeling on his sharp claws. Both reflect Burke’s observation that in contemplating the sublime “we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated.”‍[37] The process of dematerialization and, possibly, death is complete in the final border scene on the adjacent page, where the heads of a male and female float, crying, in a darkened space.

figure 10
Fig. 10, Max Klinger Brahmsphantasie, In the Grass and Satyr, border illustrations to Feldeinsamkeit (Solitude in a Field), p. 12. Etching and aquatint.
Fig. 11, Johannes Brahms, Feldeinsamkeit (Solitude in a Field), op. 86, no. 2, composed 1879, directed by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Edwin Fischer, radio recording, Turin, Italy, 1954. Available from YouTube, www.youtube.com.

The Physiology of the Musical Sublime

Burke identified sounds of the sublime as shouts, screams, and groans of pain and grief.‍[38] He commented briefly on music, defining the sublime as the “loudness and strength of sounds,” especially those that are “shrill, harsh, or deep,” and characterized by “great variety and quick transitions from one measure or tone to another.”‍[39] Alternatively, the sublime could be conveyed by a note of short duration repeated successively after intervals. In keeping with his medical definition of the sublime as strained nerves, he explained these effects as caused by an aggravated stress on the ear: “When the ear receives any simple sound, it is struck by a single pulse of . . . air, which makes the ear-drum and the other membranous parts vibrate according to the nature and species of the stroke. If the stroke be strong, the organ of hearing suffers a considerable degree of tension.”‍[40] The central topics of Burke’s comments—(1) an interest in the neurophysiology of hearing and music’s impact on the body and (2) a morphology of musical compositional techniques that could be identified as sublime—were taken up and expanded in Germany during the next few decades. These studies ensured that the inner workings of the body would be written into an understanding of music’s effects. The response to music, Johann Gottfried Herder observed, “lies hidden deep within us.”‍[41]

The first work on aesthetics to consider music, physiology, and the sublime was Johann Georg Sulzer’s Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (General Theory of the Fine Arts; 1771). Sulzer described music’s impact on emotions as an excitation caused by “the action of the aural nerves and . . . the rapid circulation of the blood.” The sublime, he noted in a metaphor of force, shakes the listener like “hammer blows.” Music, he concluded, “affects the body,” because it “involves the movement of air and the impact of air on the highly sensitive aural nerves.”‍[42] Herder, in his Viertes Kritisches Wäldchen (Fourth Critical Grove; ca. 1772, but not published until 1846) and Kaligone (1800), also sought to explain the emotional effect of music through the “psychological and physical response of the body.”‍[43] He adapted Burke’s theories to construct an experiential and dualistic theory of music based on sensory perceptions of “agreeable and disagreeable sounds” caused by tensions in the nerves.‍[44] He identified the sources for these differences in the variety of nerve branches and auditory fibers of the ear. Disagreeable or “hard” tones and key signatures cause the nerves to quiver “as if [they] were about to snap,” while agreeable or “soft” tones relax the nerves.‍[45] Herder affirmed, citing Burke, that “the former is identical to the feeling that in the soul we call the sublime; the latter is the feeling of the beautiful, or pleasure.” Herder and Sulzer compared nerves to musical strings, especially the Aeolian harp (played by the wind); vibrations of the nerves communicated stimuli to the brain and enabled the distinction between different sensations.‍[46]

By the end of the century, a lexicon of compositional techniques had been formulated that elicited the sublime and were, increasingly, associated with Viennese classicism and Beethoven. The latter’s early music was labeled overloaded, peculiar, “bizarre, wild, and ugly” and “incomprehensible, abrupt, and dark.”‍[47] In the reviews of Christian Friedrich Michaelis and later those of E. T. A. Hoffmann, most memorably the latter’s 1810 essay on the Fifth Symphony, the sublime was categorized as “heroic and epic” and characterized by “powerfully startling, or striking harmonic progressions or rhythmic patterns,” “dissonances . . . which cause a certain degree of unrest or pain” in the listener and intervals when “the established tonality suddenly veers in an unexpected direction,” as when a chord “is resolved in a quite unconventional manner.”‍[48] Above all, the sublime was dense and difficult, experienced when “the listener’s imagination is severely taxed in an effort to grasp . . . or integrate one’s impressions . . . into a coherent whole,” and therefore they felt “as if poised over a bottomless chasm.”‍[49] Several decades later, attempts to claim Beethoven’s legacy would be made by Wagner, in his book Beethoven, and Brahms, who alluded to portions of the Ninth Symphony in his First Symphony.

The physiology of hearing, with its attendant notions of vibrations and tensions, received scientific clarification during the mid-nineteenth century through Hermann von Helmholtz’s research published in Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music; 1863).‍[50] With the aid of modern equipment and recent research, he was able to identify the process of hearing as a molecular motion in networks of neural tissue. Sounds, transmitted by vibrations in airwaves, subjected the eardrum to alternating increases and decreases of pressure. “The intensity of the sound,” Helmholtz wrote, “was proportional to the amplitude of the vibration of the sound source and the pitch of the sound proportional to the frequency of vibration.”‍[51] He used the piano to explain how the body sympathetically vibrates in response to sound.‍[52] One of Helmholtz’s signal contributions was to discover how physics and the anatomical structure of the ear determined the consonant or dissonant character of chords. He theorized that consonant chords were perceived as continuous sounds, while dissonant ones merged into a vague mass of sound interrupted by pulsations or beats at an unpleasant frequency. Herder’s “agreeable and disagreeable” tones could now be pinned down. In general, the upper registers were more harmonious and the lower ones harsher. The most consonant chords were octaves and fifths, while the most dissonant were those a half tone apart, especially the minor second (C–D flat) and the major seventh (C–B), and the diminished seventh, identified by Helmholtz and later Paul Hindemith as “one of the most dissonant chords in existence.”‍[53]

Brahmsphantasie: Sound and Sight

Brahms, whose music was inspired by Viennese classicism and Beethoven, was identified with traditions of the musical sublime, as previously mentioned. Hanslick, who became a chief supporter of Brahms and was knowledgeable about research in physiology and hearing, compared his compositions to the “late Beethoven’s darker side” and cautioned that Symphony no. 1 favored “too one-sidedly the great and the serious, the difficult and the complex, and at the expense of sensuous beauty.”‍[54] By the 1880s, Brahms’s music was occasionally regarded as disturbing. An extreme example, Gesang der Parzen (1882), another choral-orchestral work with which Klinger was familiar, shocked listeners and elicited comments that recall Burke’s description of the physiological sublime.‍[55] It will be remembered that this had been one of the two works that Brahms had suggested as suitable for Klinger to illustrate. Brahms’s friend, the surgeon Theodor Billroth, opined in a letter to him: “You will, of course, have your conscious and unconscious grounds to emphasize these abnormal hardnesses, but our modern ears are sometimes pained by it.”‍[56] Brahms replied that it was deliberate, implying that the dissonant and disturbing defined this work.‍[57] The pieces selected by Klinger for the Brahmsphantasie abound in compositional features associated with the sublime: sudden transitions from one key to another, especially between major and minor; rapid fluctuations of dynamics; unconventional chord resolutions; and, above all, dissonant sounds in juxtapositions of half tones and diminished seventh chords. Brahms clearly used techniques to produce music that would be heard and felt as the audial component to the “sublime” content of the poetry: isolation, helplessness, fear, and suffering.

Klinger responded with imagery of corporeality and nature that was attentive to, as mentioned earlier, the sounds of the music, the visual patterns of the score, the words of the poetry, and the “Stimmungsgehalte.” Schicksalslied, for example, opens with an introductory section of serene calm underpinned, ominously, by a constant oscillation between major and minor keys and, in the orchestral version, the use of timpani that Brahms was known to associate with the idea of fate.‍[58] Despite being in the key of E-flat major, the section ends with a diminished seventh chord over D. So too, Klinger’s border illustration Parched Woman (fig. 12) transforms sunshine—conventionally associated with well-being—into an instrument of death-by-dehydration with a vulture perched above. The undulating curve of the woman’s body and palm tree visually embody the tempo and dynamics of “Langsam und Sehnsuchtsvoll” (slowly and full of yearning), as well as the upward movement of the notes in measures 11 and 12. The final diminished seventh chord hints at menacing things to come, and the music accompanying the third stanza of Hölderlin’s poem, marked “allegro,” is conveyed by thunderous voices and dissonant broken chords, culminating in the terrifying shriek on the word “Jahrlang” (year long; p. 29, fig. 13; and p. 28, fig. 2). This has been described by Jan Swafford as “the most violent possible in Brahms’s musical language.”‍[59] A fully diminished seventh begins when the chorus stops singing on the syllable “ab” and the harmony continues unresolved for eight measures, an unusually long duration. Brahms repeated the verse in its entirety, the second time in D minor with the voices even more intense (p. 33, with a border image of a landslide and dead bodies). Klinger matched these sounds with some of his most graphic scenes of peril, intended to maximize the full multisensory experience of sublime horror. Men, desperately struggling to ascend the barren rocks (fig. 13) or plunging to their deaths (fig. 2), illustrate the poem’s phrase “Suffering men falter and fall blindly from one hour to the next, like water flung down from cliff to cliff” with movements that evoke the repetitive rising and falling patterns of the score on page 29 (fig. 13). (The word Ungewisse [uncertainty] in the final line of the poem, has also been translated as a “vague abyss.”)‍[60]

figure 12
Fig. 12, Max Klinger Brahmsphantasie, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), border, Parched Woman, p. 23. Lithograph.
figure 13
Fig. 13, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), border, Men Climbing, p. 29. Lithograph.

In another example, the position of a naked man’s arms bound above his head in the margin of Alte Liebe (Old Love; p. 5), depicts the torture of love but also echoes the movements of the continuously rising bass clef in the final two lines of the song (fig. 14). Most strikingly, as Brachmann has analyzed, the protagonist in The Cold Hand (fig. 15; p. 7) and the ghostly aerial figure (sometimes interpreted as death) touching him enact the musical counter movements between the pounding triplet triads and the descending vocal line as well as the agony of lost love. His body is nearly felled as he desperately tries to maintain an upright stance.‍[61] The vision of his “distant beloved” in the poem is illustrated on the adjacent page as a naked woman gazing at him with curious detachment. In other instances, the imagery is used to augment the mood, rather than to provide a direct correlation with the music. Repeated scenes of the body folded in upon itself visualize anguish and isolation in a pose descended from antiquity and Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melancholy (1514) and related to Aby Warburg’s concept of Pathosformel (pathos formula). These were described by Ernst Gombrich as “the primeval reaction of man to the universal hardships of his existence.”‍[62] Examples in Brahmsphantasie include Lovers in a Chamber (fig. 16; p. 9), where a collapsed, distraught figure sits on the edge of a bed in a darkened interior, bent over a seated male hunched forward on the floor. This mental and physical condition is echoed in Prometheus Freed, enabling the viewer and listener to experience states of despair and abandonment evoked by the music and text.

Fig. 14, Johannes Brahms, Sehnsucht (Longing), op. 49, no. 3, 1868, directed by Jürgen Meier, Chamber Choir of Europe, location unknown, recorded on May 6, 2012. Available from YouTube, www.youtube.com.
figure 15
Fig. 15, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, The Cold Hand, illustration to the song Longing (Bohemian Folk Song), p. 7. Etching and engraving.
figure 16
Fig. 16, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Lovers in a Chamber, illustration to Longing (Bohemian Folk Song), p. 9. Etching, aquatint, and engraving.

Music Embodied

Music historian Richard Leppert has memorably explored music as a visualized and embodied activity; so too Klinger’s illustrations reflect an awareness that our bodies are engaged in the process of hearing and producing music.‍[63] This was increasingly part of the conversation in the late nineteenth century among Klinger’s contemporaries, who understood his art in terms of nerves and the sublime. Hildegard Heyne, in her book on Klinger from 1907, contextualized his work within recent developments in music, which, she observed, exerted the most immediate “impact on the nerves,” especially modern music, characterized by “rich chromatics, contrasting effects, and unresolved dissonances conveying psychological moods.”‍[64] Paul Kühn proclaimed that the emotional pitch of Klinger’s art was so acute that “each of his creations affect the nerves like music” and asserted that his art derives “from the spirit of music” as a Dionysian Urelement.‍[65] Kühn was particularly attentive to the corporeal aspects of the Brahmsphantasie scenes, pointing out that Klinger had portrayed the woman (described as “sublime”) in Evocation at precisely the “correct physiological moment” when the lungs are filled to capacity with air.‍[66] He also described the “maximum flexing of muscles” of the battling Titans and repeated Max Lehrs’s statement that the Titans were the most powerful and passionate embodiment of music imaginable.‍[67]

Twentieth-century studies have confirmed that the body responds to a rising melodic pitch by a feeling of increased tension that dissipates when the pitch falls. Mark Johnson, in his book The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, asserted that music is the presentation and enactment of “our felt sense of life.” “We are moved by it . . . because music orders our experience using tone quality, pitch, meter, rhythm, and other processes that we feel in our bodies.”‍[68] Klinger intuitively understood this, in part because he was a producer and consumer of music, and also because he was in a phase of his career when he was obsessively focused on human anatomy, sketching from the model six to eight hours per day in 1888.‍[69] Klinger’s understanding of music and the body (idealized and male) as interrelated, at least aesthetically, was revealed in an observation he later recorded in a letter from 1898. He recounted a studio experience sketching the bodybuilder Rosso (Georg Stanglmaier), with whom he had also worked earlier in Rome, when a young pianist, Rudolf Zwintscher, dropped by and played Chopin. Klinger rhapsodized over the beauty of the sights and sounds, drawing correlations between music and muscles: “The magnificent body naked before me, Chopin’s Polonaise with the fearsome bass triplets [performed] with such élan! And the resulting strained arm muscles that makes such élan possible.”‍[70] A similar association was depicted in Evocation, where music conjures a sky full of battling muscular Titan bodies.

The personal nature of Klinger’s musical engagement, especially when playing the piano, was also consistent with his belief in subjective expression as the foundation of the graphic arts, which he associated with music and poetry. These, he wrote, convey “the most personal joys and agonies . . . the most fleeting and deepest feelings.”‍[71] The performance of piano music afforded him the fullest opportunity to experience through his body an intertwined kinesthetic and emotional self. Presumably this is what Klinger meant when he wrote to Brahms declaring that the images resulted from the effect “on me alone” of “your work as text and sound on the piano.”‍[72] Accordingly, the pianists in Evocation and Accorde, as well as Prometheus in Prometheus Freed, have been interpreted as self-portraits.

Other personal experiences may have also informed his imagery of apocalyptic landscapes. In a letter to his parents from Rome on April 24, 1891, he related in electrifying detail a terrifying incident from the previous day. Early in the morning, while still in bed, he was awakened by a massive crash, as a glass window shattered into his room. He heard people screaming in the streets, and, upon investigation, discovered that much in his studio had been destroyed. He wrote that his first thought was an earthquake, describing “a monstrous column of smoke” and swirling “giant white vapor clouds” seen outside.‍[73] The cause turned out to be an explosion in a gunpowder storage facility, which killed over a hundred people and wounded thousands. During Klinger’s years in Italy, he also climbed Vesuvius—which resulted in a painting by him from 1889—and Mt. Etna in May 1891. In Sicily he recounted gazing at flowing lava and the vast crater with its steam rising in massive clouds. The excursion lasted through the night and afforded him “unbelievable” moonlight panoramas of the mountains and sea.‍[74] Such experiences undoubtedly informed many of his Brahmsphantasie landscapes with roiling skies, such as the border illustrations of a landslide (pp. 32, 33) and figures climbing (fig. 13; p. 29), as well as Prometheus Abducted, completed after 1891 (fig. 17). An early state of the etching depicts Prometheus, Hermes, and the eagle against abstract patterns similar to an explosion (fig. 18).

figure 17
Fig. 17, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Prometheus Abducted, p. xx, 1893. Etching, engraving, aquatint, and monotype.
figure 18
Fig. 18, Max Klinger, Brahmsphantasie, Prometheus Abducted, 1893, etching, engraving, and aquatint. Published in Max Klinger: Zeichnungen, Zustandsdrucke, Zyklen, ed. Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker and Tilman Falk (Munich: Museum Villa Stuck, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 1996), 151.

The physical demands of playing Brahms’s music were deemed particularly acute. As Brachmann has discussed, contemporary musicians described it as a “lived experience” rather than the mastery of a conceptual comprehension—a “Durchleben von Musik, ein Sich-in-die Werke Hineinleben” (this can be roughly translated as an “experience of music, with the self living inside the work”).‍[75] For Rudolf von der Leyen, Brahms’s chamber music was immersive, engaging “flesh and blood,” and Brahms’s friend, the musicologist Philipp Spitta, explained its challenging interpretative nature with regard to the body and the feelings generated. Spitta’s comments, written in 1892, are prescriptive of Klinger’s project dedicated to the sublime:

Brahms often drives performers to a point of the most extreme forceful exertion [Kraftanspannung], and, yet, this is not sufficient to fully express the idea . . . One should listen with closed eyes, think of them [the sounds] as expressions of the human organism, and try to imagine the circumstances in which humans must find themselves in order for these sounds to be appropriate and fitting. What kind of gestures and facial expressions might they engender? Would they still be called beautiful?‍[76]

Klinger’s new attention to the visceral nature of the physical self would have made him especially receptive to the sculpture of Rodin while he was living in Paris, in a studio near the Frenchman’s, from August 1883 through February 1887.‍[77] Klinger was at a transitional moment in his career, turning to mural painting and sculpture that centered on the human form, such as the early versions of Beethoven and Wagner, penning notes for Malerei und Zeichnung, and starting to contemplate the Brahmsphantasie. In 1900 Rodin became a friend whose sculptures Klinger greatly admired, promoted to German collectors, and adapted into his own work. While several art historians have affirmed his familiarity with Rodin’s art during the 1880s, mostly in an effort to establish connections between Beethoven and The Thinker, the Brahmsphantasie has not been explored in this context.‍[78] Certainly the Gates of Hell (begun around 1880), created as a visual response to poetry, offers many affinities. During Klinger’s years in Paris, Rodin exhibited figures from the Gates (Georges Petit Gallery, June–July 1886) and became the subject of lavish critical praise in terms that would have been aspirational to Klinger: a content of anguish, longing, and rage achieved through psychophysiological means derived from a knowledge of neurology and anatomy that yielded an aesthetics of the sublime.‍[79]

Octave Mirbeau, in the first essay written about the Gates of Hell in 1885, described a sculptor who rivaled Michelangelo (a major later source for Klinger) with his imagery, which conveys “in powerful synthesis a form of human passion, pain, and malediction. When we examine the twisted mouths, the clenched fists, the heaving chests, the desperate masks upon which the tears flow endlessly, we seem to hear the resounding cries of eternal desolation,” with the result that “beauty is discarded for more powerful states of being.” He concluded: “The anatomical equilibrium decreed by the Academy is disturbed and beauty based on stupid and weak convention . . . fades away.”‍[80] Gustave Geffroy referenced the “torments of love” and elaborated further on the neurophysiological aspects: “the tenseness of the muscles, the quivering of the nerves, the play with respiration . . . Rodin has unveiled states of mind through bodily effort and desolate poses.”‍[81]

figure 19
Fig. 19, Auguste Rodin, I Am Beautiful, modelled in 1885. Bronze. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Bequest of Jules E. Mastbaum, 1929, F-1929-7-6. Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Those poses were on view in Georges Petit’s gallery in works such as Crouching Woman and I Am Beautiful (exhibited as Study of Human Coupling with a quote from Baudelaire), whose posture of taut muscles straining upward was taken from the “falling man” on the Gates (fig. 19). Bodies of a similar physique animated by desperation populate the Brahmsphantasie in Climbing Men, The Abduction of Prometheus, Evocation, and the first version of Night, whose murky forms in inchoate darkness are a realm visually comparable to hell. It seems likely that when Klinger listened to the powerful sounds of Brahms’s Schicksalslied, he “saw” the bodies of Rodin.

Gendering Brahms

The Brahmsphantasie scenes visualized the composer’s music in a world of muscular power, carnal desire, and titanic suffering, topics that were central to the gendered critical receptions of Brahms and Wagner that would reach a fevered pitch with the publication of Nietzsche’s Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner) in 1888, the year Klinger began work on the series. Polemical differences articulated in masculinizing rhetoric were especially intense during the 1870s–90s and have been the subject of recent studies by Laurie McManus and Marcia Citron.‍[82] More than mere schoolboy name-calling, claims of virility were related to compositional styles, the legacy of Beethoven, and the merits of absolute versus texted music.‍[83] The inception of this direction was Wagner’s essay “On Conducting” (1869–70), which targeted his perceived enemies, including Brahms. Wagner attacked conductors and composers for suppressing all passion for “fear of losing control” and becoming “defenders of musical chastity [who] have assumed the stance toward our great classical music of eunuchs in the Grand-Turk’s Harem.”‍[84] Brahms was dubbed a member of the “abstinence school” and a producer of “stiff wooden figures.”‍[85] These accusations would develop into Nietzsche’s criticism of Brahms for his reliance on musical traditions (Bach and Viennese classicism) as derivative imitation, which he considered to be evidence of a “melancholy of incapacity.”‍[86] Some of Brahms’s most vociferous critics were Nietzsche’s friend, the composer Friedrich Gast, who, like Nietzsche later, regarded Brahms’s music as “emotionally cold, lifeless, stiff,” and the music critic Hugo Wolfe, who described Brahms’s Symphony no. 4 as possessing “the language of the most intense musical impotence.”‍[87]

Brahms’s defenders, including Klinger, responded to these disparagements by defining Brahms and his music as strong and masculine, which also served to connect him to Beethoven (who set the standard for manliness), the sublime, and more sensualized musical content.‍[88] Hanslick took the lead, discussing all of Brahms’s symphonies as evidencing “manly and noble seriousness,” physical strength, and heroism.‍[89] The most fulsome assertion of Brahms’s virility and superiority appeared in a response by Josef Viktor Widmann to Nietzsche’s attack in the second postscript of The Case of Wagner. Widmann described Brahms as “the manliest man” whose musical “charm has grown from the foundation of strength, yeah [sic] sometimes itself a raw manliness.”‍[90] In a similar vein, Klinger portrayed Brahms symbolically as Hercules in Prometheus Freed, the heroic liberator of the Titan whose physique ripples with muscles like the bodybuilder Rosso, with whom Klinger occasionally worked.‍[91] This may have been intended as a barbed rebuttal, since Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), believed that Prometheus was freed by the “Heracleian power of music,” which he considered to be Wagner’s.‍[92]

Klinger’s selection and presentation of the five Lieder, with their themes of longing, loss, and betrayed love, can be related to Spitta’s efforts to redefine song and melody, traditionally gendered female, as masculine when composed by Brahms. Spitta noted that most of these were written for male voices and that their sensibility could only be compared to Beethoven’s. They are described as conveying weighty emotions that “drip blood, not tears,” contain “shrieks of passion,” and evidence an eroticism that distinguishes them from the “naive cheerfulness” of Mozart and Goethe.‍[93] Among certain members of Brahms’s private inner circle, there was a perception that his music contained elements of sexuality and passion, which, according to Brachmann, was visualized in Klinger’s pictures and which partly accounted for Brahms’s pleasure in the Brahmsphantasie.‍[94] Others, such as Clara Schumann and Hanslick, considered the imagery somewhat vulgar, and the perceived overwrought emotional drama, scenes of death, and carnal attraction too Wagnerian for a composer of absolute music.

Some of these same elements, such as “an overexcited sensibility,” had been the basis of Nietzsche’s attack on Wagner in The Case of Wagner for pathologizing modern music through an immersion in nerves, desire, and the sublime.‍[95] The essay, caustically sarcastic, anthropomorphized Wagner’s “success” as a music scholar who denounces passion as cheap, dissonance as “the mud of the most contrary harmonies,” and “the sublime, the profound, the overwhelming” as the populist addiction of “German youths, horned Siegfrieds . . . cultural cretins, petty snobs, [and] the masses . . . in sum the Volk.”‍[96] Nietzsche’s denunciation, however, revealed a close understanding of Burke’s corporeal sublime. Rooted in powerful effects that “belong partly in physiology,” the instruments of sublime music, Nietzsche mocked, impact “the intestines . . . bewitch the marrow of the spine . . . agitate the nerves . . . [and] hurl lighting and thunder” through the “gymnastics” of “ugliness” based on “contrary harmonies.”‍[97] The Brahmsphantasie, regarded in light of Nietzsche’s condemnations, can be read as a defense of the sublime by redefining it in terms of Brahms’s music and Klinger’s own art as a viable foundation for German modernism.

Klinger’s attitude to Wagner, it should be added, was mixed. He attended concerts at Bayreuth and created a bronze bust (ca. 1904) and statue of the musician (unfinished), but never met his fellow Saxon. Klinger generally admired Wagner’s writings more than his music, according to many Klinger scholars.‍[98] Wagner’s concept of Gesamtkunstwerk was prized by Klinger and adapted as Raumkunst (interior spaces blending painting, sculpture, and architecture), but in matters musical Klinger’s first loves were Brahms and his teacher Robert Schumann.

figure 20
Fig. 20, Max Klinger, The Brahms Monument, 1909. Marble. Laeiszhalle (formerly Hamburger Musikhalle), Hamburg. Image courtesy of the Laeiszhalle Hamburg.

Klinger’s promotional efforts had at least one reported convert. The Austrian playwright and critic Hermann Bahr recalled in a 1909 review of Klinger’s sculpture, the Brahms Monument (fig. 20), that in his “wild” youth he, like Hugo Wolf, had found Brahms “cold” and could not understand how Klinger, “an artist of inner fire like no other today,” could have been so attracted to his music.‍[99] As an adult, however, because of Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie, his mythological print series, and his Brahms Monument, Bahr realized, in a Freudian turn (as noted by McManus) that Brahms too was a man of “smoking desires” and “demons” who repressed them because he feared their strength.‍[100] Bahr remarked poetically that Klinger parted the clouds to reveal a silent, radiant star. The reference to quiet strength, an appropriate descriptor of both Prometheus in Prometheus Freed and the sculpture, leaves in place the earlier gendering of Brahms, just as the monument, whose initial sketch dates from 1897, is a final act of the Brahmsphantasie drama. The towering Brahms, described by Bahr as “upright” with an “elevated manliness” and “strong will” whose music strikes the soul, is surrounded by naked figural signifiers of sensuality and rapt emotional states: an androgynous youth whose body is draped around the composer’s neck with their faces aligned, two young women by his side, and the torso of a mature male below who could have been kin to the triton and nereids in the oceanic depths of the Brahmsphantasie. Presumably for Bahr these were embodiments of those repressed desires rechanneled into his music. Significantly, Klinger told a journalist for the Hamburger Nachrichten (Hamburg news) that he had chosen to portray Brahms as a younger man at the time “when he was composing the great choral works which I love, the Schicksalslied and Nänie.”‍[101]

Contesting Male Identity in the Brahmsphantasie

While Klinger endeavored to present a virile composer in the Brahmsphantasie, he also used the sublime and the tale of Prometheus to question prevailing formulations of masculinity in Wilhelmine Germany that emphasized heteronormative manliness and stoic courage. Although the modern age has generally regarded heroism with ambivalence and skepticism, it was valued in late nineteenth-century Germany as a component of nationalism following victory in the Franco-Prussian War (1871) and the establishment of the empire.‍[102] Klinger, however, had been deflating the concept since the beginning of his career, when he completed a satirical series of thirty-one drawings, The Life and Deeds of Hercules (1874; Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig).

figure 21
Fig. 21, Max Klinger, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), border, The Farmer Whose Seed Sows Disaster, p. 36. Engraving.

In the Brahmsphantasie, Klinger foreclosed on traditional heroic agency. The Titans experience death and defeat while Prometheus, in the final scene, is a figure of trauma and despair not only as the result of physical torture but because his efforts have not redressed the tragic essence of life, the failures of relationships, or the cruelties of human behavior. This is made clear in the illustrations to the five Lieder and in Klinger’s arrangement of the Prometheus scenes. In between the sixth (Sacrifice) and the final print of the myth (Prometheus Freed) is the Schicksalslied score (pp. 23–36) with its imagery of dystopian disasters. Essentially, these function in place of an illustration of Prometheus chained to the rock with the eagle pecking at his liver. Even more revealing is the final border image, which concludes the Brahms score and appears adjacent to Prometheus Freed. In The Farmer Whose Seed Sows Disaster (fig. 21; p. 36) (Matthew 13:3–23), a crop of swords flourishes in a stormy landscape, above which the “hand of fate” (Schicksal) pulls the plumb line of a triangle to divert the course of divine justice and prosperity (according to Christian and Freemason symbolism).

Prometheus is not the “revolutionary hero” defined by scholar Tobias Janz as a modern figure whose actions can correct social injustices and inequalities.‍[103] Neither is he a Romantic hero or an inspiring “man of the future,” as Wagner glorified Siegfried.‍[104] Instead, Klinger seems to suggest, through symbolic identifications of Prometheus and Hercules with himself and Brahms, that artists can be considered modern heroes who courageously give voice and vision to the inexorable dark side of life. Brahms evidently agreed, since the Farmer illustration was his favorite, according to his biographer and friend Max Kalbeck, who believed that Klinger’s imagery pleased Brahms because it deepened the introspective and melancholy tone of many of his compositions from the 1880s and ’90s.‍[105] These contrast with other aspects of his music, even the Schicksalslied, which concludes with twenty-nine tranquil instrumental measures of Adagio in C Major. Hölderlin also opted for a “happy ending” to his novel, if not the poem: Hyperion closes with the reconciliation and cosmic union in nature of the two lovers, Hyperion and the deceased Diontima.‍[106]

Klinger selected the character of Prometheus because, for German intellectuals of the past century, he had set the standard for male heroism by courageously sacrificing his well-being for the good of humanity. Karl Marx was depicted as Prometheus, while Goethe (in Prometheus, 1774), Wagner (in Art and Revolution, 1849), and Nietzsche (in Birth of Tragedy, 1872) celebrated the Titan for his defiant attitude and for saving Athenians by awakening their communal spirit. As has been frequently noted, Prometheus appeared on the cover of Nietzsche’s book confidently victorious with his foot on the eagle who had tortured him. For music historian Kevin Karnes, Prometheus’s “insurmountable alienation from both humanity and the gods” in the Brahmsphantasie illustrations is Klinger’s critique of Nietzsche’s and especially Wagner’s ideal of uniting mankind.‍[107] To do so Klinger reached back to the ancient Greek tragedies by Hesiod, encouraged by his immersion in Schopenhauer, where the theft of fire unintentionally caused life’s miseries, and Aeschylus, whose play Prometheus Bound concludes with the words “I suffer” amid lightning and thunder (possibly referenced in Klinger’s darkened sky). For Schopenhauer, Hesiod’s Theogony represented “an allegory of the highest ontological and cosmological principles.”‍[108]

The transgressive heroism of Prometheus in the Brahmsphantasie also posits variable concepts of male identity, which Klinger suggests in subtle ways. He worked during a time when, according to historian George Mosse, traditional masculinity, centered in self-control, was being challenged by experiences of male hysteria, shattered nerves, and the increasing visibility of same-sex desire.‍[109] Alternative constructions of manhood, many of which exposed human fragility and the failings of rigid codes of behavior, were being explored in literature, theater, and opera.‍[110] Klinger discredited normative standards of manliness through stereotypical images of classical athletic bodies steeled by exercise and skilled (in the case of the Titans) in the martial arts who nonetheless experience defeat, and, for Prometheus, abduction. Not surprisingly, some viewers regarded his version of Prometheus as weak and “ungermanic.”‍[111]

Male protagonists are additionally undone and humiliated by the treachery of failed love, whether the betrayal recounted in The Cold Hand or the dominatrix goddess Aphrodite. Arguably, the sublime, despite being rugged and powerful, could be considered profoundly challenging to conventional expectations of masculinity. It is an experience that activates the most extreme passion and nervous tensions, incapacitates reason, and renders individuals vulnerable. Above all, the sublime denies the effectiveness of willpower, which, according to Mosse, “became almost an obsession when it came to describing true manliness” in the late nineteenth century.‍[112] Historian Edward Ross Dickinson has noted: “Respectable culture demanded that men display emotional autonomy, self-reliance, or even self-containment; and it defined masculinity above all as rationality and self-possession.”‍[113]

Men in the Brahmsphantasie, by contrast, behave in ways traditionally gendered female: they exhibit feelings, self-revelation and reflection, exceptional sensitivity, and a keen awareness of human suffering or, as Schopenhauer wrote, “the profound knowledge of the inner nature of the world.”‍[114] Even more unconventional behavior (for the era) is hinted at through allusions to homosexuality and, possibly, the attendant victimization by society. The scene with the most pronounced overtones of same-sex desire is the Abduction of Prometheus (fig. 17), where Prometheus is also at his most helpless, with his body hanging stretched and suspended between his captors against a stormy sky. The composition is centered on his torso and thighs with his face largely obscured. The focus on male bodies, whether in homosocial comradeship or isolation, resonates throughout the second half of the Brahmsphantasie, instancing historian Michael Hatt’s assertion that the “boundaries between ideal and deviant masculinity were never fixed; the idealized sculptural nude ‘cannot help but provoke the homoerotic.’”‍[115]

References to homosexuality, though, were more deliberate in the Abduction of Prometheus, as confirmed by a preparatory drawing where Hermes grips the Titan’s legs and wraps them around his groin. On the verso Klinger sketched a scene of two men in a back alley.‍[116] Whether or not Klinger intended to position gay men as particular victims of prevailing moral judgments, it is true that he later helped friends, such as the artist Sasha Schneider, who were in trouble with the police. Klinger’s art was taken up by the gay community, as documented by art historian Hansdieter Erbsmehl, where it provided validation for their own “ways of thinking and feeling.”‍[117] Prometheus Freed was reproduced as an art print by Adolf Brand, a leading supporter of gay rights, and published in the journal Pan at the suggestion of Harry Graf Kessler.‍[118]

The Brahmsphantasie also figures within the context of another non-traditional lifestyle, the “new men” of the Lebensreform movement, to which he would later contribute iconic images (And Yet! and To Beauty in the series On Death II, 1898). The muscular physiques in the Brahmsphantasie were partly inspired by Rosso, whom Klinger had met in Rome in 1892, described as a “German Hercules,” and used as a model for the painting Strength and Weakness (1892).‍[119] This practice, which would be continued in 1901 with Lionel Strongfort posing for some of his major sculptures (Drama, 1899–1904; Athlete, 1901; and Athlete Warrior 1901), exemplifies values of the Lebensreform ideal, associated with Nacktkultur (body culture), sports, physical exercise, and health.‍[120]

As with his interrogation of heroism, however, Klinger rejected the movement’s positive utopian agenda of social and individual renewal. The anguished men in the Brahmsphantasie instead serve as prototypes for his later sculptures of athletes, which, as Conny Dietrich has written, are not “superior figures of victory” but vulnerable men in defensive poses who are “fallen, cringing, and despairing” and reflect “his struggle with himself and his times.”‍[121] They are, nonetheless, as Britt Schlehahn has recently suggested, images of self-identity whose strength symbolizes his artistic powers of creativity.‍[122] The sculpture Athlete was chosen by Klinger to mark his grave site. Not unexpectedly, the Brahmsphantasie presents a worldview largely antithetical to the Lebensreform ideals: nature is a force of destruction; the sun (an emblem of the movement) causes dehydration and death; light (another symbol) is the province of the wrathful gods and brings no happiness when acquired by Prometheus; and the earth, celebrated by the vitalist movement, is the imprisoning setting for the tellurian life of the Titans (Titans and Night).

Concluding Remarks

Brahms’s music of sublime passion and frequently unstable harmonies stimulated in Klinger an awareness of agonistic life, which he chose to visualize primarily through ominous landscapes and classical bodies distorted by states of emotional despair conveyed through tensions of nerves and muscles. His focus on a bodied response to music—the medium deemed to most excite the nerves—places him in a developing trend of artists who deployed their knowledge of the nervous system to portray suffering, from Rodin and Edvard Munch to the neuropathological vocabularies of Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Klinger’s attitude of grim, even cynical, pessimism regarding the possibilities of human striving and fulfillment is also culturally modern in its questioning of progress. In this, Klinger’s Prometheus anticipates the even more damning vision painted by Max Beckmann during the horrors of National Socialism. The latter’s Prometheus: The Man Left Hanging (1942, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg) depicts the flawed hero suspended, crucified, and shrieking in pain as his foot is set (ironically) ablaze by a voluptuous woman.

Klinger heard in Brahms’s music the sorrow that has been described as modern by music historian Leon Botstein in comments on the Fünf Lieder (Five Songs), opus 49: “The contemporary and the modern emerge as the bearer of the profoundly sad, the melancholic, and the pessimistic. They offer bittersweet recognition of the elusive character of happiness, the loss of innocence, overwhelming presence of death and the pain of desire.”‍[123] The Brahmsphantasie is Klinger’s most ambitious realization of his convictions that only music and image can convey “the deepest and most hidden truths” and that only through symbols “can we feel all the heights and depths of human existence without having actually experienced them.”‍[124] These remarks were written in 1885, the year he completed the drawing Prometheus Freed. Together with the music and poetry, Klinger’s imagery in the Brahmsphantasie was meant to assure Brahms’s place in the genealogy of German modernism and to engender in the viewer the powerful visceral responses that Klinger experienced when playing this music on the piano in his studio.


Portions of this essay were delivered at the conference “Zeitordnungen um 1900: Max Klinger und das Musikalische,” Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Jena, Germany, May 30–31, 2018, and in a session sponsored by the Body Studies Network at the German Studies Association conference in Portland, Oregon, October 4–6, 2019. I would like to express my gratitude to Barbara Larson, who read an earlier version of this essay; to Laurie McManus for clarifications on the musical analysis; to the anonymous manuscript reviewer; and to the editor, Petra Chu.


[1] Typical examples during the late Romantic-Biedermeier era are Wilhelm Hensel’s pictures for his wife Fanny Hensel’s compositions.

[2] Max Klinger, Malerei und Zeichnung (1891; repr. Leipzig, Germany: Philipp Reclam, 1985), 33. For the English translation, from which this essay will subsequently cite, see Max Klinger, Painting and Drawing, trans. Fiona Elliott and Christopher Croft (Birmingham, UK: Ikon Gallery, 2005), 19.

[3] The five songs, composed between 1868 and 1882, are: Alte Liebe (Old Love), op. 72, no. 1, poem by Carl Candidus; Sehnsucht (Böhmisches Volkslied) (Longing [Bohemian Folk Song]) by Joseph Wenzig, op. 49, no. 3; Am Sonntag Morgen (On Sunday Morning), op. 49, no. 1, poem by Paul Heyse; Feldeinsamkeit (Solitude in a Field), op. 86, no. 2, poem by Julius Almers; and Kein Haus/Keine Heimat (No House/No Home), op. 94, no. 5, poem by Friedrich Halm. The Davison Art Center of Wesleyan University, which owns an edition of the Brahmsphantasie, has a website with reproductions of each page together with an introduction, recordings of the songs, and some of the poems with English translations. See “Brahmsphantasie: Max Klinger and Johannes Brahms: An Artistic Convergence,” Wesleyan University (website), accessed December 20, 2021, http://brahmsphantasie.research.wesleyan.edu.

[4] Klinger used the French term accorde, which is retained in English translations. It means both chords and agreement, but also suggests “in tune.”

[5] The five Prometheus prints are arranged in the following order: Titans, Night, Theft of Light, Celebration, Abduction of Prometheus, Sacrifice, and Prometheus Freed.

[6] Jan Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf . . . Johannes Brahms und Max Klinger in Zwiespalt von Kunst und Kommunikation (Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1999), 121–25. Brachmann is a music historian whose book remains the definitive analysis of the Brahmsphantasie. It was the culmination of two decades of writing on the subject by art historians who specialized in Klinger’s work. The debate between a two- versus three-part division hinges on whether the Prometheus prints are considered to be their own section or grouped with the Schicksalslied score.

[7] For a concise summary in English of the early associations between Klinger and Brahms, see Walter Frisch, German Modernism: Music and the Arts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 94. A richly detailed account of their entire relationship is provided in Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 23–25.

[8] John Daverio, “The Wechsel der Töne in Brahms’s Schicksalslied,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 46, no. 1 (1993): 84–113, especially 98–107; and Nicole Grimes, “Brahms’ Ascending Circle: Hölderlin, Schicksalslied and the Process of Reconciliation,” Nineteenth-Century Music Review 11, no. 1 (June 2014): 57–92. Grimes interprets Hyperion as a bildungsroman in which devastation also yields resolution and unity with nature for the hero. Klinger’s statement was contained in a letter to Brahms from December 1893 and translated in Frisch, German Modernism, 95. The German is: “ . . . und von da aus mitzusehen[,] weiterzuführen, zu verbinden oder zu ergänzen” (Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 41).

[9] Klinger, Painting and Drawing, 24. Brachmann (Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 125) also notes that the term “Phantasie” was a musical category popular in compositions during the classical and Romantic eras. Klinger had honed this practice with his earlier border illustrations to classical poems translated by Emanuel Giebel, devising images that symbolically capture the subjects and tone of the text. These are illustrated in Franz Hermann Meissner, Max Klinger (Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler, 1899, 1914), and discussed in Marsha Morton, Max Klinger and Wilhelmine Culture: On the Threshold of German Modernism (Farnham Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2014), 218.

[10] Johannes Brahms, letter to Max Klinger, March 1886, quoted in Johannes Brahms, An Max Klinger (Leipzig: Poeschel & Trepte, 1924), 5; translated and quoted in Frisch, German Modernism, 94.

[11] Letter from Brahms to his Berlin publisher Fritz Simrock (who frequently acted as a go-between with Klinger), February 19, 1885; repr. in Karl-Heinz Mehnert, “Max Klinger und Johannes Brahms: Begegnung und Briefe,” Max Klinger 1857–1920, ed. Gieter Gleisberg, exh. cat. (Frankfurt am Main: Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitute, 1992), 58. The letter was originally cited in Jens-Christian Jensen, Brahms—Phantasien: Johannes Brahms—Bildwelt, Musik, Leben, exh. cat. (Kiel, Germany: Die Kunsthalle, 1983), 34.

[12] See Hölderlin’s Schicksalslied cited in note 3.

[13] Grimes, “Brahms’ Ascending Circle,” 59. Grimes discusses Brahms’s interest in Hölderlin and classical antiquity. The poet was also revered by Robert Schumann, Brahms’s early mentor and Klinger’s other favorite composer.

[14] Sir Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757; repr. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2015), 91–93.

[15] Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Fall Wagner (The Case of Wagner), trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 155–89. The neurological sublime comprises physiological effects related only to nerves.

[16] For an extended analysis of the musical-political debate between supporters of Wagner (program music) and Brahms (absolute music, which is untexted), see Thomas K. Nelson, “Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie and the Cultural Politics of Absolute Music,” Art History 19, no. 1. (March 1996): 26–43. Nelson focuses on the first print in the series, Accorde, and notes that Hanslick, Theodor Billroth, and Clara Schumann all disliked the imagery of the Brahmsphantasie—which Brahms loved. My essay partially agrees with Nelson’s assessment that Klinger “shows Brahms’s ‘absolute’ music to be assertive, tumultuous, driven on by an heroic impulse until its apotheosis in death, and libidinous in origin and motivation” (p. 36). The interconnection between Austrian politics (the decline of liberalism and rise of right-wing populism) and Brahms is central to Margaret Notley’s study, Lateness and Brahms: Music and Culture in the Twilight of Viennese Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[17] The most strident of these were Friedrich Gast and Hugo Wolf. The subject of gender with regard to Brahms and his music has recently been the subject of a book by Laurie McManus: Brahms in the Priesthood of Art: Gender and Art Religion in the Nineteenth-Century German Musical Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021). This work builds on the pioneering essay by Marcia J. Citron, “Gendered Reception of Brahms: Masculinity, Nationalism and Musical Politics,” in Masculinity and Western Musical Practice, ed. Ian Biddle and Kirsten Gibson (Farnham Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 141–59.

[18] Notley, Lateness and Brahms, 8–9.

[19] Notley, Lateness and Brahms, 48–49.

[20] Klinger, Painting and Drawing, 33.

[21] Anton Webern made this observation about Brahms’s modernist legacy. He is quoted in Jan Swafford, “Gesang der Parzen,” in The Complete Brahms: A Guide to the Musical Works of Johannes Brahms, ed. Leon Botstein (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), 398.

[22] Brahms observed that Beethoven’s music evinced “noble pathos, sublimity in its feeling and imagination, intensity . . . violent in its expression” in comments on the “Cantata on the Death of Emperor Josef II,” discovered in 1884. He is quoted by Alessandra Comini in The Changing Image of Beethoven: A Study in Mythmaking (1987; repr. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 2008), 309.

[23] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann (1872; repr. New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 38, 44 (on the sublime Homer), 70. For Paul Guyer, “Nietzsche transforms the beautiful and sublime into Apollonian and Dionysian drives” in his introduction to Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, xxxiv.

[24] The comment by Wagner is in his text Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (The Artwork of the Future), and is quoted and discussed by Kevin C. Karnes in “Brahms, Max Klinger, and the Promise of the Gesamtkunstwerk: Revisiting the Brahms-Phantasie (1894),” in Brahms and His World, ed. Walter Frisch and Kevin C. Karnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 181.

[25] Letter from Brahms to Klinger, December 12, 1893, in Johannes Brahms and Max Klinger (Leipzig, Germany: Poeschel & Trepte, 1924), 7. The English translation is in Frisch, German Modernism, 96. The full statement is: “Beholding them [the Brahmsphantasie prints], it is as the music resounds farther into the infinite and everything expresses what I wanted to say more clearly than would be possible in music; and yet still in a manner full of mystery and foreboding.”

[26] Friedrich Schiller, “On the Sublime,” translated in Matthew Rampley, Nietzsche, Aesthetics and Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 85. Schiller’s sentence concludes with the observation that it is man’s nature to fight back: he vows “to suffer at the hands of no force.” This belief was not endorsed by either Hölderlin or Klinger. On Lessing, see Guyer, introduction to Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, xxxi.

[27] For Nelson, Accorde represented a “sublime dream of transcendent crossing” (“Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie,” 34) while Carl Dahlhaus, a music historian who authored books on absolute music, disparaged the etching as an assemblage of stage props resembling kitsch. See Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 245. Brachmann compared it to the opening of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 8 in C Minor, op. 13 (“Pathétique”) (Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 127). Schopenhauer opined that the sight of a mountain range “easily puts us in a serious, and even sublime, mood.” Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. 2, trans. E. F. J. Payne (1818; repr. New York: Dover, 1969), 404.

[28] Shelley Trower, Senses of Vibration: A History of the Pleasure and Pain of Sound (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012), 45–46. The entire book is an extended discussion of this history. Erberhard Roters contextualized Evocation and Accorde within the symbolism of sexuality, dreams, and the unconscious through the harp and sea, primarily in nineteenth-century art, in his essay “Evocation—Die Sublimierung des Elementaren,” in Gleisberg, Max Klinger 1857–1920, 26–37.

[29] Arthur Schopenhauer included a lengthy discussion of the sublime in The World as Will and Representation, vol. 1, trans. E. F. J. Payne (1818; repr. New York: Dover, 1969). His remarks on “tempestuous seas,” “foaming masses of water,” and “black thunderclouds,” which evoke the environment of Prometheus Freed, are found on p. 204. For a brief discussion of Klinger’s use of watery sites in scenes of sexual transgressions, see Morton, Max Klinger and Wilhelmine Culture, 129–30. The sea also functioned as a mise-en-scène for Brahms’s act of composing the Schicksalslied (a beach in Wilhelmshaven) and Hyperion’s departure on a ship to travel to his beloved Diotima who, unbeknownst to him, has died. It is at this moment in the plot’s action that the poem Schicksalslied is inserted. These facts are discussed in Daverio, “The Wechsel der Töne,” 93.

[30] Burke, preface to the first edition, A Philosophical Enquiry, 3.

[31] Burke’s friend and mentor, the physician Christopher Nugent, was interested in pathologies of nervous systems, and George Cheyne published theories of nerve tensions and vibrations. For lengthier discussions see Barbara Larson, “Darwin, Burke, and the Biological Sublime,” in Darwin and Theories of Aesthetics and Cultural History, ed. Barbara Larson and Sabine Fach (Farnham Surrey, UK: Ashgate Press, 2013), 53–68; Vanessa Lyndal Ryan, “The Physiological Sublime: Burke’s Critique of Reason,” Journal of the History of Ideas 62, no. 2 (April 2001): 265–79; and Aris Sarafianos, “Pain, Labor, and the Sublime: Medical Gymnastics and Burke’s Aesthetics,” Representations 91, no. 1 (Summer 2005): 58–83. According to Guyer (Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, xxi–xxii), Burke based his physiology on publications such as David Hartley’s Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duties, and His Expectations (London, 1749). Hartley believed that sensation is rooted in vibrations of minute particles in the nerves, with pleasure resulting from moderate vibrations and pain from more violent ones that might even rupture the nerves.

[32] Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, 105.

[33] Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, 51.

[34] Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, 47.

[35] Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, 74. Burke contrasted this with the sensation of love inspired by beauty.

[36] Klinger, Painting and Drawing, 21. Klinger wrote “air suggests the notion of freedom, the sea that of power.”

[37] Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry, 56.

[38] Burke, cited and discussed in Trower, Senses of Vibration, 33.

[39] Burke, quoted in Trower, Senses of Vibration, 99.

[40] Burke, quoted in Trower, Senses of Vibration, 111.

[41] Herder wrote in Kritische Wald: “the pleasure of music lies deep within us; it works by intoxication.” This is translated and quoted by Holly Watkins, “From the Mine to the Shrine: The Critical Origins of Musical Depth,” in 19th-Century Music 27, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 186.

[42] These quotations are taken from Johann Georg Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (Leipzig, Germany: M. G. Weidemanns Erben and Reich, 1771); reprint of 1792–94 edition in Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth Centuries, ed. Peter le Huray and James Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 136, 138.

[43] Sue Morrow, German Music Criticism in the Late Eighteenth Century: Aesthetic Issues in Instrumental Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 14.

[44] Johann Gottfried Herder, “Fourth Grove,” in Johann Gottfried Herder, Selected Writings on Aesthetics, trans. and ed. Gregory Moore (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 244. For an extended discussion of Herder’s theories of nerves and senses, see P. F. Nisbet, Herder and the Philosophy and History of Science (Cambridge, UK: The Modern Humanities Research Association, 1970), especially 253–64.

[45] Herder, “Fourth Grove,” 244.

[46] For further discussion, see Robert E. Norton, Herder’s Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 190–92.

[47] These comments referred to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 23 in F Minor, op. 57 (“Appassionata”) and his Second Symphony in reviews from, respectively, 1806 and 1805. They are quoted in Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven: The Music and the Life (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2003), 177–78.

[48] Christian Friedrich Michaelis, article in Berlinische musikalische Zeitung 1, no. 12 (1805); excerpted and translated in Le Huray and Day, Music and Aesthetics, 289.

[49] Michaelis, quoted in Le Huray and Day, Music and Aesthetics, 289.

[50] Hermann von Helmholtz, Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (Braunschweig, Germany: Vieweg, 1863). Translated by Alexander J. Ellis, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for a Theory of Music (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1875).

[51] Hermann von Helmholtz, quoted in Michel Meulders, Helmholtz: From Enlightenment to Neuroscience, trans. and ed. Laurence Garey (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), 160.

[52] Trower, Senses of Vibration, 44.

[53] Meulders, Helmholtz, 183–84. A diminished seventh is a minor seventh chord reduced by a semitone.

[54] Eduard Hanslick, “Brahms’s Symphony no. 1,” 1876, in Hanslick’s Music Criticisms, trans. and ed. Henry Pleasants, (New York: Dover Publications, 1950), 127. His scientific discussion of sound and hearing is contained in Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful: A Contribution towards the Revision of the Aesthetics of Music, trans. Geoffrey Payzant (1891; repr. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1986), 57.

[55] Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 202. He suggests that the Prometheus prints and The Farmer Whose Seed Sows Disaster (p. 36) derive from Klinger’s knowledge of this source.

[56] Theodor Billroth, quoted in Swafford, “Gesang der Parzen,” in The Complete Brahms, 398. Billroth is today regarded as the father of abdominal surgery. He was also an amateur musician and close friend of Brahms.

[57] Swafford, “Gesang der Parzen,” in The Complete Brahms, 398.

[58] Swafford, “Schicksalslied for Chorus and Orchestra,” in The Complete Brahms, 388.

[59] Swafford, “Schicksalslied for Chorus and Orchestra,” 389.

[60] Michael Hamburger, Friedrich Hölderlin: Poems and Fragments, 4th ed. (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2004), 121.

[61] Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 164. Karl Heinz Mehnert observed that “Loneliness, like the breath of death, touches his heart” in Karl Heinz Mehnert, “Brahmsphantasie, Opus XII,” in Max Klinger: Zeichnungen, Zustandsdrucke, Zyklen, exh. cat. (Munich: Museum Villa Stuck, 1996), 202.

[62] Ernst Gombrich, Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (London: Phaidon, 1986), 223.

[63] See Richard Leppert, Music and Image: Domesticity, Ideology and Socio-Cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and Richard Leppert, The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation and the History of the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

[64] “Musik . . . ist diejenige der Künste, die selbst an unmittelbarsten aus Nerveneindrücken erwächst.” “Die Musik unserer modernsten Zeit unterscheidet sich von der früheren . . . durch reiche Chromatik, Kontrastwirkungen, ungelöste Dissonanzen, psychische Stimmungen ausgedrückt.” Hildegard Heyne, Max Klinger im Rahmen der modernen Weltanschauung und Kunst (Leipzig, Germany: H. Haessel, 1907), 20.

[65] “jede seiner [Klinger’s] Schöpfungen auf die Nerven wirkt wie Musik.” “seine Kunst ‘aus dem Geiste der Musik’ als dem dionysischen Urelement zu erklären.” Paul Kühn, Max Klinger (Leipzig, Germany: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1907), 10. This statement is also quoted by Max Pommer, “‘Wie der Charakter eines Musikstücke’: Zum Verhältnis von Bild und Musik in Max Klingers theoretischem und praktischem Schaffen,” Klinger, exh. cat. (Leipzig, Germany: Museum der Bildenden Künste, 2020), 186.

[66] “Er wählte den richtigen physiologischen Moment, um im Körper das höchstgesteigerte Lebensgefühl auszudrücken, nämlich die Höhe des Atemzuges, wenn die Lungen am meisten mit Luft gefüllt sind.” Kühn, Max Klinger, 207. The woman was described as divine, a sublime “Übermensch” (despite her gender), revealed in her full uncloaked nakedness. “Es liegt etwas Göttliches, Übermenschlich-Erhabenes in dieser unverhüllten Nacktheit.”

[67] “nackten Leiber in der höchsten Muskelanstrengung.” He quoted Max Lehr: “Mächtiger, leidenschaftlicher als diese bildgewordene Verkörperung der Musik lässt sich nichts erdenken.” Kühn, Max Klinger, 209–10.

[68] Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 236, 238.

[69] Klinger to his parents, May 1888, unpublished letter in the Stadtarchiv Naumburg, Naumburg, Germany. This letter is quoted by Conny Dietrich in her essay “‘Max Klinger pittore’: die Jahre in Rom 1888–1893,” in Klinger (2020), 34. Dietrich also notes that the information was confirmed in a letter written by his close friend, the sculptor and printmaker Karl Stauffer-Bern.

[70] Klinger wrote: “Der Prachtkörper nackt vor mir, Chopins Polonaise mit den furchtbaren Basstriolen und mit welchem Elan! Und dabei die angestrengten Armmuskeln mit ebensolchem Elan fertig machen!” Klinger to Elsa Asenijeff, undated letter attributed to November 1898, quoted in Dietrich, “Max Klingers Athletenfiguren im Kontext der frühen Bodybuilding-Bewegung,” in Klinger (2020), 198.

[71] Klinger, Painting and Drawing, 23.

[72] He wrote: “wie Ihre Werke als Schrift und Ton am Flügel auf mich allein wirkten.” Klinger to Brahms, undated, presumed to be in 1893, repr. in Ursula Kerstin, Max Klinger und die Musik (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1993), 166.

[73] He saw “eine ungeheure Rauchsäule” and “einer riesigen weissen Festgeballten und in sich wirkbelnden Wasserdampfwolke bekrönt.” Klinger to his parents, April 24, 1891, in Briefe vom Max Klinger aus den Jahren 1874–1919, ed. Hans Wolfgang Singer (Leipzig, Germany: E. A. Seemann, 1924), 98–99.

[74] Klinger to his parents, May 30, 1891, in Singer, Briefe vom Max Klinger, 101–2.

[75] Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 150.

[76] Rudolf von der Leyen, Johannes Brahms als Mensch und Freund (Leipzig, Germany: K. R. Langewiesche, 1905), 24, quoted in Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 150. For Spitta, see Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 166. The original source is found in Philipp Spitta, Johannes Brahms (n.p., 1892), in Renate Hofmann and Kurt Hofmann, eds., Über Brahms: Von Musikern, Dichtern und Liebhabern: Eine Anthologie (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 1997), 169. Spitta: “Brahms treibt die Spieler manchmal bis zur äußersten Kraftanspannung, und dennoch reicht sie zur völligen Darstellung der Idee nicht aus. In den Durchführungspartien sind solche Stellen am häufigsten. Man höre sie mit geschlossenen Augen, denke sie als Außerungen menschlicher Organe, und versuche sich vorzustellen, in welchen Zuständen sich Menschen befinden müßten, damit solche Töne für sie paßten, welches ihre Mienen, ihre Gebärden wären. Würden sie noch schön genannt werden können?”

[77] The studios of both men were in Montparnasse. Klinger lived on impasse du Maine 9 and Rodin on the blvd. de Vaugirard. His workshop for the Gates of Hell, however, was farther away, near the École Militaire. Klinger was very interested in contemporary French art and visited the final impressionist exhibition. His diary in Paris is filled with comments on the art he was viewing (Degas remained his favorite) and he published an article, “Kunststreifereien in Paris,” in the Berlin National-Zeitung, October 18, 1883. It was reprinted in Max Klinger, Gedanken und Bilder aus der Werkstatt des Werdenden Meisters, ed. Hildegard Heyne (Leipzig, Germany: Koehler & Amelang, 1925), 25–31.

[78] In addition to earlier scholars, these include Nicholaisen, in Klinger (2020), 23; and Claude Keisch, “Rodin im Wilhelminischen Deutschland: Seine Anhänger und Gegner in Leipzig und Berlin,” Forschungen und Berichte 29/30 (1990): 252. Klinger also helped to organize Rodin’s exhibition in Dresden in 1904. For further information on Klinger and Rodin, see Ina Gayk, Max Klinger als Bildhauer: Unter Berücksichtigung des zeitgenössichen französischen Kunstgeschehens (Hamburg, Germany: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2011), 161–233; and Jan Nicolaisen, “Zwischen Manet und Degas, Gerome und Rodin,” 23–28, and “Zu den späten Zeichnungen Rodins,” 54–56, both in Klinger (2020). Influences from Rodin abound in Klinger’s later sculptures, such as Drama (1904) and Crouching Woman (1901), both of which have been related to Rodin’s Crouching Woman (1881–82). The monuments to Brahms (1909) and Wagner (study 1907) have been compared to Rodin’s Balzac (1897).

[79] For information on Rodin, neurology, and myology, see Barbara Larson, “Mapping the Body and the Brain: Neurology and Localization Theory in the Work of Rodin,” in RACAR (Canadian Art Review) 34, no. 1 (2009): 30–40; and Debora L. Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 243–69. Natasha Ruiz-Gomez has chronicled Rodin’s transformative use of Charcot’s catalogue of contorted postures of hysterics to convey despair and “psychological angst.” See Natasha Ruiz-Gomez, “A Hysterical Reading of Rodin’s Gates of Hell,” Art History 36, no. 5 (November 2013): 1011. As she notes, “Meaning is located primarily in the body whether it is turned in upon itself or outward upon the world” (p. 1011).

[80] Octave Mirbeau, “The Future Museum of Decorative Arts,” La France, February 18, 1885, trans. John Anzalone and repr. in Ruth Butler, ed., Rodin in Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980), 47–48.

[81] Gustave Geffroy’s article was published in La Justice, May 19, 1887, and quoted in Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, “The Gates of Hell: The Crucible,” in Rodin, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of the Arts, 2006), 63. The “torments of love” phrase was in “The Sculptor Rodin,” Arts and Letters, 1889, repr. in Butler, Rodin in Perspective, 68. This is a translated and condensed version of his essay for the catalogue of the Monet-Rodin exhibition at the Georges Petit Gallery in 1889.

[82] McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art; and Citron, “Gendered Reception of Brahms.”

[83] The political ramifications of this cultural divide were discussed by Nelson in his essay on Accorde (“Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie”).

[84] McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art, 155. Wagner’s essay was first published in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

[85] McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art, 156, 1.

[86] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1969), 187.

[87] Gast’s comment, contained in a letter, is quoted in David S. Thatcher, “Nietzsche and Brahms: A Forgotten Relationship,” Music & Letters 54, no. 3 (July 1973): 277. Hugo Wolf’s review, published January 24, 1886, is quoted in McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art, 189.

[88] For a gendered discussion of Beethoven, see Sanna Pederson, “Beethoven and Masculinity,” in Beethoven and His World, ed. Scott Burnham and Michael P. Steinberg (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 324–35.

[89] Citron, “Gendered Reception of Brahms,” 142–43.

[90] Josef Viktor Widmann, “Nietzsches Abfall von Wagner,” Berner Bund, November 20–21, 1888, translated and quoted in McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art, 192.

[91] Hercules has been identified as a symbolic portrait of Brahms by Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 210–12, 218.

[92] Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Kaufmann, 75; and Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 212.

[93] Spitta, “Johannes Brahms,” in Zur Musik: Sechzehn Aufsätze (Berlin: Gebrüder Patel, 1892), 405–7. “An diesen Liedern hängen nicht Thränen, sondern Blutstropfen” (p. 405). “Es ist nur selbstverständlich, das seine solche Natur auch das Erotische derber aufsasst. Mozart’s und Goethe’s Sinnlichkeit ist naiver und heiterer” (p. 406). “In andern Fällen [other than Bach’s] mag der Schrei der Leidenschaft gewollt sein, nur weil er der Natur des Componisten entsprach” (p. 407).

[94] Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 173–77.

[95] Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, 166. For a discussion of the basis of Nietzsche’s rejection of Wagner and the sublime, see Juliet Koss, Modernism after Wagner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 95–97.

[96] Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, 167–68.

[97] Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner, 168.

[98] See, for example, Gayk, Max Klinger als Bildhauer, 219; Barbara Jahn, Max Klinger: Beethoven (Leipzig, Germany: E.A.Seeman, 2004), 15; and Thomas Strobel, “Beethoven—das Kunstwerk der Zukunft im Geiste Richard Wagner,” in Max Klinger: Wege zur Neubewertung, 236–50. For further information on Klinger’s Wagner Monument, read Karl-Heinz Mehnert, “‘Die Aufstellung einer Wagner-Figur auf dem Sockelblock könnte späteren Zeiten vorbehalten bleiben . . . ’: Die unendliche Geschichte des Leipzier Richard-Wagner-Denkmals von Max Klinger,” in Max Klinger “Der grosse Bildner und der grössre Ringer . . .,” ed. Hans-Werner Schmidt and Jeannette Stoschek (Leipzig, Germany: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2012), 80–102.

[99] Hermann Bahr, “Brahms von Klinger,” in Neue Freie Presse (Morgenblat, Vienna), February 25, 1909. He remarked, “was denn ihn [Klinger], der wie kein anderer heute der Künstler des inneren Verbrennens ist, zum ‘kalten’ Brahms zieht.”

[100] Bahr, “Brahms von Klinger”; and McManus, Brahms in the Priesthood of Art, 215–16. The classical series of etchings to which Bahr referred was Klinger’s Rescues of Ovid’s Victims (1879).

[101] Klinger, quoted in Gayk, Max Klinger als Bildhauer, 215. Klinger: “Sie sehen, ich habe mit Absicht eine jüngere Zeit für den Kopf gewählt. Er entstammt der Zeit der grossen Chorwerke, des Schicksalsliedes und der Nänie die ich so liebe!”

[102] For a discussion of modern attitudes toward heroism, see Tobias Janz, “Wagner, Siegfried und die (post-) heroische Moderne,” in Wagners Siegfried und die (post-) heroische Moderne, ed. Tobias Janz (Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann, 2011), 11–14.

[103] Janz, “Wagner, Siegfried,” 14–15.

[104] Janz, “Wagner, Siegfried,” 18. See also Simon Williams, Wagner and the Romantic Hero (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). The literature on heroism and Wagner is vast.

[105] Max Kalbeck, Johannes Brahms, vol. 4, part 2 (Berlin: Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft, 1914), 335. According to Kalbeck, Brahms loved studying the scenes of human destitution and vulnerability. On qualities of reflection and memory in Brahms, see Notley, Lateness and Brahms, 55, 69.

[106] This was noted by Brachmann, Ins Ungewisse hinauf, 197, and was the subject of extensive analysis by Nicole Crimes, “Brahms’s Ascending Circle: Hölderlin, Schicksalslied and the process of Recollection,” in Nineteenth-Century Music Review 11 (2014): 57–92. Daverio, “The Wechsel der Töne,” 98–107, attributed Brahms’s musical conclusion to an application of Hölderlin’s theory of shifting and overlapping tonal styles which, in the music, progress from the naïve lyric to the heroic to the ideal (an elevation of the naïve).

[107] For Karnes, this is also a critique of Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Karnes, “Brahms, Max Klinger and the Promise of the Gesamtkunstwerk,” 188.

[108] Schopenhauer interpreted the figure of Night and her children as a “moral allegory” of life: “effort, exertion, injury, hunger, pain, conflict, murder, quarrelling, lying, injustice, dishonesty, [and] harm.” Schopenhauer, “Some Mythological Observations,” Parerga and Paralipomena, vol. 2, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1972), 408, 409. Klinger had just purchased a copy of Parerga and Paralipomena in 1884, which he later described as his nightly bedtime reading.

[109] George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1996), 56–106. Sigmund Freud’s first paper delivered at the Vienna Medical Society in 1886 included the topic of male hysteria.

[110] Barbra Hindinger and Ester Saletta, eds., Der musikalisch modellierte Mann: Interkulturelle und interdisziplinäre Männlichkeitsstudien zur Oper und Literatur des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts (Vienna: Praesens Verlag, 2012). See especially Simon Walsh’s essay on Arnold Schoenberg’s “Die glückliche Hand,” 352–71, and Melanie Unseld, “‘ . . . heroisch’ im weitesten Sinne’: Wagners Konzeption des Helden,” 146–63.

[111] Willy Pastor, quoted in Annegret Friedrich, Das Urteil des Paris (Marburg, Germany: Jonas, 1997), 14.

[112] Mosse, The Image of Man, 100. He attributes some of this to the influence of Nietzsche.

[113] Edward Ross Dickinson, “Sex, Masculinity, and the ‘Yellow Peril’: Christian von Ehrenfels’ Program for a Revision of the European Sexual Order, 1902–1910,” German Studies Review 25, no. 2 (May 2002): 255–56.

[114] Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2:267. Citron, “Gendered Reception of Brahms,” 156, discusses “the longstanding ideology that the revelation of self is a feminine trait, as is the display of emotion.” Klinger would have been intrigued to learn that the diminished seventh chord was later identified by Schoenberg as having an “indefinite, hermaphroditic, [and] immature character,” capable of resolving in multiple different harmonies. Arnold Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, trans. Roy E. Carter (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 196. The book Harmonielehre was first published in 1911. I am indebted to Laurie McManus for this reference.

[115] Michael Hatt, “Physical Culture: The Male Nude and Sculpture in Late Victorian Britain,” in After the Pre-Raphaelites: Art and Aesthetics in Victorian England, ed. Elizabeth Prettejohn (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999), 240–56. This statement is quoted by Prettejohn on page 10. It was then used as an epigraph by Anthea Callen for chapter 3, “Doubles and Desire: Anatomies of Conflicted Masculinity,” in Looking at Men: Art, Anatomy and the Modern Male Body (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 111.

[116] This print was first discussed within the context of homosexuality by Jensen, Brahms—Phantasien, 39–40. He interpreted the drawing as an image of thrusting rape. For an illustration, see Max Klinger (1996), 150.

[117] Hansdieter Erbsmehl, “Homoerotik und Mannmännlichkeit in Max Klingers Kunst und Leben,” in Max Klinger: Wege zur Neubewertung, ed. Pavla Langer et al. (Leipzig, Germany: Plöttner Verlag, 2008), 74–89. The quotation is on page 81: “seine Kunst in den Bildkanon homosexueller Denk- und Fühlweisen aufgenommen.”

[118] Pan 2, no. 2 (1896–97): 88.

[119] Dietrich, in Klinger (2020), 200. The painting is now lost but is reproduced in Dietrich’s essay on page 201. Klinger’s comment was contained in a letter to his father from October 23, 1892.

[120] For the most complete discussion of Klinger’s relationship to the Lebensreform movement, particularly in the context of gender, see the exhibition catalogue Max Klinger: Auf der Suche nach dem neuen Menschen, ed. Ursula Berger, Conny Dietrich, and Ina Gayk, exh. cat. (Berlin: George Kolbe-Museum, 2007). See, especially, the introduction (pp. 8–11) and Dietrich’s essay, “Kraft und Schönheit: Max Klingers Athletendarstellungen,” 35–47. Recent publications on the movement include Bernd Wedemeyer-Kolwe, “Der neue Mensch”: Körperkultur im Kaiserreich und in der Weimarer Republik (Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann, 2004); Aufbruch: Die Lebensreform in Deutschland (Darmstadt, Germany: Philipp von Zebern, 2017); and Michael Hau, The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany: A Social History, 1890–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

[121] Klinger’s representations of athletes “keine überlegenen Siegerfiguren darzustellen” . . . “Vielmehr erschienen sie als gefallen, zurückschreckende, verzweifelte Figuren, die vor allem Ausdruck vom Klingers Ringens mit sich und seiner Zeit sind.” Dietrich, in Klinger (2020), 204.

[122] Britt Schlehahn, “Das Bild des Mannes nach ‘dem’ Manne? Nackte, männliche Körper bei Max Klinger und Sascha Schneider,” in Max Klinger: “Der grosse Bildner und der grössre Ringer . . . ,” 118–19. Schlehahn contrasts Klinger’s muscular figures with Schneider’s images of slender men who, in their seeming passivity and victimization, rebel against the stereotypes of modern manliness. Schneider, however, was committed to Lebensreform principles of health and athletic activities (pp. 121–23).

[123] Botstein, The Complete Brahms, 240. This song group included two that Klinger selected for the Brahmsphantasie: On Sunday Morning and Longing.

[124] Klinger, journal entries from April 24 and May 28, 1885, in Klinger, Gedanken und Bilder, 43, 47. The first comment was part of a discussion of Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena. April 24: “es den überhaupt uns nicht vergönnt ist, die tiefsten und verborgensten Wahrheiten anders, als im Bilde und Gleichniss darzustellen.” May 28: “Alle Höhen, alle Tiefen der Menschlichkeit empfinden wir vor ihm [das Symbol], ohne sie durchlaufen zu müssen.”