What is it with me and Brahms? I first came to him via those French Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and early ’60s, nearly all of which had Brahms playing in the background. One, I seem to remember, was even called Aimez vous Brahms. Well, I did aime him; or thought I did; especially the first string sextet, which seemed to give expression to my adolescent feelings at the time. (I was going out with a French girl. Ah, Martine!!) I dutifully went through all his other stuff: symphonies, piano concertos, chamber music, songs, the Deutsches Requiem. I’ve remained faithful to that sextet, the first piano concerto (the gutsy one), the Requiem, and the Alto Rhapsody. But all the rest now leave me deeply unsatisfied. Is it because the ones I’ve listed are – I think – relatively early works, written while he still had some spunk?
Yesterday we attended a performance of his violin concerto in the Stockholm Konserthus – I believe the first ‘offline’ concert they’ve had there since lockdown. The hall – an architectural gem, by the way – was packed. It was great to be rubbing shoulders again – literally; the seats are quite narrow – with other people. But the concerto still disappointed. It was well played, by a Danish violinist, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, and Kungliga Filharmonikerna under the baton of the excellent Alan Gilbert. But I feel that, like most of Brahms’s music, it doesn’t say anything.
Am I missing something? Probably; I ‘missed’ the ‘something’ in Wagner, for example, for many years before I succumbed. Myself, I’m a Berlioz man when it comes to mid- and late-19th century romantic composers. Just now I’m soaking myself in Bruckner. (I’d like to die to one of his adagios.) Maybe that’s why I currently find Brahms so facile. I’m reminded of a judgement I read once, in a novel I’ve forgotten the name of. ‘Brahms wasn’t a great composer. He just sounds like one.’ Clever. (I wish I could remember who wrote it.) Do other classical music lovers feel the same about him?
If I get Covid through being in a crowded concert hall listening to his music, I’ll know whom to blame.
My God, Bernard, I never thought I’d disagree with you about anything until your post about Brahms. Just google Von Ewiger Liebe, sung, ideally by Irmgard Seefried, and the scales from your eyes will fall, or more appropriately, the ear wax in your ears will drop out, and you shall be undeceived at last. And cheered up because you’ve been terrible morose of late. I’ll be damned if when you hear the words of the girl to her beloved- her strength, conviction and resolution – you’re not uplifted.
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Yeah, OK I suppose (!!), and with a fairly late opus number, so it can’t be counted as one of my ‘early’ exceptions. But not a patch on Schumann, Frauen Liebe und Leben. Sorry; I’ll try again.
Hello Bernard! I have to take issue with you here! I came to the Brahms Violin Concerto (deserves capitals if only for that spine-tingling opening with the strings supplicating heaven… but for what? Vengeance? No – it’s D major after all!… Perhaps for the perfection of the Divine?) via a wonderful recording with Yehudi Menuhin and the Berlin Phil, conducted by the under-rated Rudolf Kempe (who, incidentally, did some magnificent Wagner, too). The First String Sextet? I’m with you on that! The First Symphony is rather tortured (Beethove’s shadow too huge in the background?) but there are moments of great beauty in the 2nd, and the ending is truly heroic!
Brucker – craggy ‘cathedrals of sound’ that, ultimately, reward patient and repaeated listening. The Adagio of No.7 is to die for. And the finale to No.3 echoes the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from ‘Das Rheingold’ – possibly the best ending that Bruckner never wrote….
Berlioz – the ‘Reveries-Passions’ 1st movement of the Symphonie Fantastique is bursting with other-wordly magic! And ‘Harold In Italy’ has exquisite passages for the viola.
I have a friend with similar views to yours on Brahms. A few years ago we had a ‘be Kind To Brahms’ Year. perhaps you and i should revive this? And could I suggest the Piano Quarter No.2, Op. 26 as a suitable ‘starter’? Best wishes to You and Good Brahms Listening!
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