Friday Quckie: Brahms' music was indeed intellectual

I do realize that most critics are not theorists or musicologists, and from time to time their reviews may call for such considerations. They may be forgiven if their comments aren't always one hundred percent accurate. However, we here at the Detritus just have to say..."wait, what?"

Review: West Michigan Symphony gets season off to fiery start
Laura Alexandria, The Muskegon Chronicle, September 25, 2010

The final selection, Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) Symphony No. 4 in Eminor [sic], was described by Speck as "intellectual" and "lavish," and indeed that is what it was.

I just love this confirmation by the critic of the conductor's pre-performance talk:

Yeah, he described this Brahms Symphony -- pssh -- as "intellectual", but I had to hear it first to be sure. Who ever heard of this Brahms character anyway? I'm not one of those rubber stamp critics you know...up here in Western Michigan, we demand results!

Actually, I'm sure it's a completely innocent statement. But a little editing would have revealed how
that last remark is really completely unnecessary.

Moving on. Tell us more about the music of this Brahms fellow.

Although not melodic, Brahms' music is a balance between technique and expression,...

Yes, yes. Balance of technique and expression, not melodic and...wait. ...


Brahms' music is not melodic?! Are you sure?

I mean, I've heard of a lot of Brahms' music before, and I've also heard quite a few melodies.

I guess I don't know what you mean. Are you suggesting that Brahms' music doesn't contain groupings of pitches arranged in a linear progression? Is the Fourth Symphony nothing more than homophony?

Oh, perhaps you're using the term "melodic" in the most idiotic sense of the word, to mean 'a hummable tune'. Please say that isn't so.

But if it is so, is there anyone out there who can't hum the opening theme to Brahms' Fourth Symphony? To any of the movements really.

Even 70's prog-rock band, Yes, thinks the Fourth Symphony has a melody.

But I interrupted you, perhaps the rest of your sentence will clarify this unsubstantiated claim.

...and the symphony delivered on the classical form, the dynamic range, and some lovely woodwind passages in the second movement.

Whew! The four movement structure of the piece was in doubt until the West Michigan Symphony came along. Thanks, guys!


Danny said...

I have a [crackpot] theory on this one. The theme of the concert was the progress of late Romanticism (with a strong emphasize on historical musicological narrative), and I wonder if the reviewer was trying to insulate Brahms from what came next. After all, Brahms's intellectual style and obsessive motivic development made him one of the biggest influences Schoenberg had. So maybe something in the back of her head told her, "Brahms may have pushed music down the dark path, but I'll protect him by emphasizing it's expression and its classical form. Take that, Schoenberg! Your music isn't expressive at all and doesn't have any classical form."

I want to know why she's trashing the Pilgrim's chorus sections of the Tannhauser Overture. They may not be, uh, loud, but they're the backbone of the piece.

Gustav said...

Excellent theory, Danny -- if only she had made that argument, or really any argument. I buy the position that both Brahms and Beethoven cared more about motivic development than creating tuneful melodic lines...but that's a way different thing than tossing in the aside that "although not melodic, Brahms' music...". That's pretty much crazy talk.

However, your theory is much more fun, and I wish someone would have the balls to blame Brahms for modernism. That might cause Sator's head to explode.

Sator Arepo said...

Schoenberg more-or-less attributes his brand of modernism to Brahms in the essay (essays?) "Brahms the Progressive" in "Style and Idea."

Oh, sorry; I meant, "kablooie!"

Danny said...

That pop arrangement of the third movement has been in my head all weekend. Damn you, Gustav! I was happier not knowing about it!