Wednesday, August 24, 2011


This is the piece that my brother Arthur told me reminded him of "roast beef and Yorkshire pudding". It took me a long time to rid myself of these dinner-music associations, when my father would put on recordings more for our education than our pleasure. And yet, and yet. . .

Because of that drilling (and I just had major dental work today, OW), I am able to detect a similarity between the anguished opening of this Brahms fourth movement and the Tristan opening, the malaise and even the anxiety in it. The two aren't brothers, but perhaps cousins. Except for Beethoven, composers could not help but hear each other and be subtly influenced.

Hermetically sealed in deafness, Beethoven was forced to be completely original. Thus he did not transform music so much as transfigure it: changed it at the molecular level so that it was almost unrecognizable to his audience. Such alchemy comes at a price, and by the end of his life Beethoven "was" his music, with little else to comfort him. 

Brahms took a long time to even try to write a symphony, daunted and half-paralyzed by Beethoven's legacy. "You have no idea how it is for the likes of us to feel the tread of a giant like him behind us!" he wailed (if you can picture such a bearded beer-barrel of a man wailing). I wonder why the giant was behind him instead of in front of him, or was it a Freudian slip?

At any rate, speaking of spiritual cousins, the music of Brahms owes much to the deaf half-crazy genius who died of drinking too much coffee (the lead in the glaze in his Starbucks mugs dissolved and killed him off,  just like the ancient Romans). A long time later somebody burned some of Beethoven's hair to prove the theory, but no such doubt exists about Brahms, who died of booze and cigars. And loneliness. We won't get into Clara Schumann. . . Not this time. I wrote about yearning, did I not? Listen to this music, listen, and I won't need to say anything at all.