NOTES FROM THE MAESTRO
“Johannes Brahms is one of the giants of the classical symphonic repertoire. He was called Beethoven’s successor by the famed German composer Robert Schumann. Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 was dubbed Beethoven’s 10th. What an accomplishment. And what pressure. But whereas Beethoven was the revolutionary of his time, Brahms was considered a traditionalist in the second half of the 19th century. He was the counterpart to much more exciting composers. What had happened?
Brahms was considered the creative counterpart to Richard Wagner. Counterpart would assume to have two different styles of composition. There were Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann who composed in the classical style. The architectural form of that style was called ‘sonata form’ with the first movement of a symphony structured on 2 contrasting themes, a development, a recapitulation and then coda. But in the middle of the 19th century things got interesting. The bad boys of music, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner and then Richard Strauss decided to go rogue. No more classical form. Instead: freeform. And the freeform was called ‘tone poem.’ Emotional flow. Storytelling. Sudden character shift. Everything allowed. Now back to Brahms. He stuck to his guns amidst all the young kids. And the amazing thing was that although Brahms continued composing in that classical traditional formula described above, emotionally he packed it to the brim.
His Symphony No. 3 starts with splashes of different colors falling downwards. In order to hear the melody Brahms composes 2 different lines that complement each other taking compositional tactic straight from Richard Wagner’s playbook. Brahms’ music has an inward glow. Verinnerlicht, inwards, as we would say in German. Not flashy, outward, extroverted, but rather late Romantic soulful and deep.”