First of all, it’s important for my erudite international readership to know that one of my very best friends refers to Haydn as “H-Man.” This did play a small role in convincing me to post this piece today. Not an enormous role, mind you, but still. A small one. I’ve also been feeling relatively braced with life in general these days, and in these moments of rare contentment, I turn to this masterpiece by Brahms. It runs the gamut of emotions and starts out proud but not arrogant, and calm but not sedate. It is also important to recognize that Claudio Abbado is at the baton in this, my favorite recording.
Brahms, a native of Hamburg, Germany, lived from 1833 to 1897 and is one of the most important composers of the “classical” period. He composed during an interesting period during music history, when Western classical music was evolving away from the structure of Bach and Mozart towards the freer harmonic modernism championed by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Brahms always sounds like he has a foot in both camps. His melodies and embellishments are as flowery and delightful as any of the true Romantic composers, but he doesn’t go on for six and a half hours. One of my favorite life quotes is actually from Brahms: “It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.” I think he left only the very best notes in this piece. By the end of it, you feel like you’ve run a marathon, graduated from medical school, completed astronaut training, and cleaned your kitchen. You know – done something really major.