The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (208): Seasonal Brahms

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (208): Seasonal Brahms


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2020

Opus 104/5: In autumn.



  • John Borstlap says:

    Beautiful work.

    The German text:

    1. Ernst ist der Herbst.
    Und wenn die Blätter fallen,
    sinkt auch das Herz zu trübem Weh herab.
    Still ist die Flur,
    und nach dem Süden wallen
    die Sänger stumm, wie nach dem Grab.

    2. Bleich ist der Tag,
    und blasse Nebel schleiern
    die Sonne wie die Herzen ein.
    Früh kommt die Nacht:
    denn alle Kräfte feiern,
    und tief verschlossen ruht das Sein.

    3. Sanft wird der Mensch.
    Er sieht die Sonne sinken,
    er ahnt des Lebens wie des Jahres Schluß.
    Feucht wird das Aug’,
    doch in der Träne Blinken
    entströmt des Herzens seligster Erguß.

    English translation:

    1. Autumn is sad.
    And when the leaves are falling,
    sinks too the heart in troubled grief to lave.
    Still is the field,
    and flown to Southwinds calling,
    are songsters, still, as to the grave.

    2. Drear is the day,
    and pallid clouds are veiling,
    the sunlight as the spirit free.
    Soon comes the night:
    then rest all powers empaling,
    oblivion falls on all that be.

    3. Tender grows man.
    He sees the sun declining,
    divines that life too as the year, must close.
    Moist are the eyes
    but thro’ the teardrops shining,
    outflows the heart and holiest solace knows.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The older I get, the more I appreciate the greatness and uniqueness of Brahms.
    Has anyone else here experienced this age-related awareness? Just curious….

    • John Borstlap says:


      The reason is: inwardness. Life experience widens the space of the inner self, which becomes more perceptive to the questions of life under the surface of appearances. The music of Brahms is all about this inwardness.

      Also: Brahms was never much interested in outward effects, but focussed upon the meaning of the relations between the notes. Hence his orchestral scoring which is sometimes considered ‘colourless’ and ‘puritanical’ – but he scores with relationships and lines and masses. Choral music is per definition ‘colourless’ so everything that is heard, has musical meaning.

      The timeless greatness of Brahms is only perceptible for people who recognize its otherworldliness and inwardness. The others think he is merely ‘conservative’.

    • Jason Lewis says:

      My fiddle-playing partner has always said that you can’t really ‘get’ Brahms until you are at least 40. I agree.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for this!

  • E says:

    Really beautiful and welcome in these days.
    Thank you.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Greg Bottini — Perhaps Brahms, who was only 64, was, as someone said of Max Beerbohm, “born with the gift of perpetual od age.” I felt it in him well before twenty , but it was always there, from the adagio of the third piano sonata, and seemingly increasing in poignnce and regret through his late music, Op. 117for instance. Perhaps like the old Theodor Fontane, he became old early, so as to be old or a long time. Or maybe it was just the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Schumann shared it, and Chopin, though neither lived as long.

    At any rate, it’s good music to hear this time of the year.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Edgar – I hope you’re well.
      Hmmmm…. I don’t hear that same quality in Schumann, who I’ve always thought of as composing rather youthful and generally positive music, “this-worldly”, even at the end.
      Chopin, though, yes – he always seemed to me to have one eye on his own demise.
      That Brahms-Clara S.-Robert S. dynamic was really something, wasn’t it? I can’t imagine anything like it happening again, because the morals of their age – for better or for worse – have since vanished.
      (BTW, the Brahms op. 117 you mention is one of my most cherished works.)

  • John Nikolatos says:

    I greatly enjoy the video and the posts here. I suffer mightily from SDBF (Severe Debilitating Brahms Fever), contracted as an adolescent in the back of the cello section of my city’s youth orchestra during the fourth movement of Brahms 1st symphony. That alphorn theme in the horns, then handed to the flutes (how splendid that Brahms wrote the passages for the flute and horn sections, not just as solos), while we kids in the string section rolled our bows in a shimmer underneath it all, which led us into that final glorious theme….I’ll never forget that experience and can visualize it readily.
    I am reminded that someone once said that some of the most masterful notes in Brahms works are the rests.
    In 1997 — a “Brahms year” as it was the centennial of his death (and my 50th year) — I realized I knew nothing of my hero’s life. I assumed he had a wife and children. I happened upon Malcolm MacDonald’s Brahms biography then consumed everything I could about Brahms and his circle. That he was so heavily photographed greatly added to getting to “know” him. I held Brahms listening parties in my apt. in San Francisco back then. We’d listen to our favorites as well as different recordings of the same work.
    I could gas on and on about what Brahms means to me. I know I’m not alone.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi John,
      Which orchestra were you in? I was in the California Youth Symphony, which was based in the Palo Alto area (I grew up in Redwood City). I’m now living in The City.
      Your listening parties sound just like mine. My friends and I all had big record collections. What was your brand of cheap red wine? We drank Red Mountain (it wasn’t too bad on the rocks)…. college age budgeting, you know.
      And please, go ahead…. gas on!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Great story.

      Fortunately the world is filled to the brim with silent Brahms lovers, because he says something meaningful about life, and without frills and without the usual nonsense.

      • David K. Nelson says:

        I regard it as a mark against the otherwise perceptive composers Hugo Wolf and Benjamin Britten (and I suppose we should throw Tchaikovsky in there too), and the generally perceptive music critic B.H. Haggin, that they could not abide the music of Brahms. It was Haggin who talked Joseph Szigeti into dropping a Brahms sonata from his famous (and recorded) sonata recital program with Artur Schnabel.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It’s truly puzzling what these people, who were greatly gifted themselves, found so reprehensible in Brahms. Britten even regularly played through B’s music to be confirmed again and again ‘how bad it is’. One wonders what he played, then – the piano pieces? The symphonies? The concertos? I think they find it difficult to stomach that a composer rejects so many aspects of composition that makes it so attractive, so accessible, so glamorous, and still is so überrich in its effects and so brilliantly made. Or it is the intellectual substance of the music, which combines romantic and classical expression with a thoroughly organised thematic/motivic structure. Envy, probably – and/or the incapacity to understand the mindset of that type of artist.

          I think he is one of the truly great, without trumpeting it around. He can stand next to Beethoven without blushing, although he does something entirely different than him, while using more or less a comparable musical language.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Brahms is for me an autumnal composer, which I return to often. I especially like his Intermezzi op 118 and the Clarinet sonatas.

    My first encounter with Brahms was attending a performance of Ein Deutsches Requiem at St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast as a young medical student.

    I also have a treasured recording of Kathleen Ferrier singing Vier ernste Gesänge op 121, the greatest contralto ever. I understand Brahms admired a contralto by the name of Hermine Spies.

    Brahms died of pancreatic cancer, there is some evidence of hepatic carcinoma. You can read Dr Wolfgang Wagner’s of Vienna, BMJ monograph and the letter in Chest concerning his diagnoses.

    As a tribute here is Kathleen Ferrier singing Vier ernste Gesänge John Newmark, piano.

  • Lancelot Spratt says:

    I get the impression from reading Karl Geiringer’s biography, Brahms felt he was the last of the line of the Greats.

    I doubt he would have much liked what happened post 1900.

  • Doc Martin says:

    A pity Brahms never visited England, he did not feel confident with the language and I think he was wary of sea travel.

  • Edgar Self says:

    John Nikolatos describes well the great horn-call as it passes to the flute in the finale of the first symphony, just before the grand tune, and later to introduce the brass chorale near the end.
    Dennis Brain said all conductors wanted i to sound t “like a beam”, which he didn’t find helpful. I was 18 when I saw Stokowski conduct it in Dallas, wandered the streets all night, and was ushered home by policemen who didn’t know Brhms or Stokowski.

    A better example than the third sonata is the unutterably sad horn solo in the menuetto of the third symphony, that Bruno Walter and the pre-war Veenna Philharmonic played so beautifully, and that Furtwangler intensified time-stoppingly in his post-war live Berlin Philharmonic performance on EMI.

    The three Intermezzi Op. 117 are acmes of nostalgic regret, eventhe E-flat lullaby for Brahms’s friends’ newborn,– the C# minor most of all from Rubinstein, Gould, and particularly Pogorelich; Solomon and Rubinstein in the B-flat minor, indeed Rubinstein in all three. Brahms called them the coffins of his sottows or suchlike.

    His menage with Clara extended to one of her daughters. Schumann’s second Liederkreis Op. 39 qualifies, especially the first Lied, “Aus der Fremde hinten die Blitzen rot es kommen die Woelke hier, aber Vater und Mutter sind lange tot, und keiner kennt mich mehr hier”. I’m murdering the German, forgive me.

    I’m well and walking again, thanks, Greg, but my proof-reading languishes.
    Each section of the German Requiem ends positively. the exquisite double-song in Op. 85 (“Sommerabend” and “Mondenschein”) is strangely unknown even from Joerg Demus and Fischer-Dieskau. One hardly ever hears of the early mass, the cantata “Rinaldo” for tenor and male chorus, the “Triumphlied”, or more to this point his last music, Eleven Chorale Preludes after J. S. Bach for organ, Op. 121. The very last, and the last music he wrote, is “O Welt ich muss dich lassen” — “O world, I must leave thee” . Virgil Fox is the best I’ve heard, if you can find it.

  • Garech de Brun says:

    Brahms serenade No 1.

    Capella Augustina, Andreas Spering

  • Edgar Self says:

    It’s something of a start to me to realist that his two serenades are the first orchestral music Brahms published. The second has no violins, as previously discussed, like an Etienne mehul opera, Glass’s “Akhnaten”, and one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      And Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which has no violins or violas. I remember reading somewhere that for the American premiere the violin section of the Boston Symphony sent a telegram to Stravinsky along the lines of “Congratulations on brilliant scoring of Symphony of Psalms.” Stravinsky sent a telegram back thanking them and adding that he hoped the rest of the Boston Symphony felt the same way.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That is really funny.

        Also the piano concerto is without strings, I think only double basses.

        Stravinsky did not like the ‘romantic’ persona of the string instruments with their vibrato, drilling the ’emotion’ into the listener’s heart. His string writing is almost always secco and fresh, already in Petrushka.