I am always looking forward to a program combining Brahms and Beethoven. It is as though I am reflecting the common yearnings of Beethoven’s admirers for a continuation of his music. Brahms, born just 6 years after the Master’s death, and just 22 years old when he was introduced to the public as Beethoven’s successor by Robert Schumann, struggled for many years to fulfill that promises. I admire both composers, their music affect me greatly and I am never tired to listen to their music- chamber & symphonic.
The ‘5th Symphony’ is well known but Brahms’s ‘Nanie’, ‘Song of the Fate’ and ‘song of Destiny’, almost never performed in this country. It was the first time I had heard them myself. Thinking about the musical and chronological connection of Brahms to Beethoven, it was also interesting that Brahms’ short poems were played first and the ‘5th Symphony’ concluded the concert. I perceived it as just right.
This last Saturday, we were treated to a program connecting 3 melancholic short tone poems by Brahms, with Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ under the combined title of ‘Fate’.
The theme of fate was obvious in Brahms’ music. All three pieces were inspired and were composed as choral music to poems by Schiller (“Nenia”-“Song of Lamentation”), Goethe (“song of Fates”) and Holderlin (“song of Destiny”). That Brahms was seeking inspiration in these poems and composed his music in a span of 10 years, brings to my mind not only his state of mind at that period but the general approach to art (and life?) of his time.
Europe and especially Germany were in the midst of the Romantic Era, were images from the past and a mood of melancholy & tragic fate, were perceived as the true human condition.
The 5th Symphony, without any concrete verbal program, is known as well as music of “Fate”, in great part to Beethoven’s own words, describing the powerful 4 notes starting the Symphony:”Thus Fate knocks at the door”.
When I say that the order of the program felt right, I really want to say that Beethoven’s Symphony, although composed 70 years earlier, sounds more contemporary in mood, even modern in depicting emotions. At least, in our own time & culture.
Brahms’ beautiful music and the poetic messages are fatalistic without any escape from Higher Powers. The notion of death affects the beauty of life- the music is melancholic throughout. In contrast, Beethoven’s Symphony is struggling with Fate– the music is powerful, undefeated despite of Fate. The human spirit, at the end is triumphant!!!
I think that in our time, with all our struggles, individually and collectively, we identify with Beethoven’s grasp of the human condition.
The PSO and the Mendelssohn Choir with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos at the helm, gave us a superb performance. I was under Brahms’ spell of eternal sadness and I was lifted to the monumental music of Beethoven expressing my own belief of destiny while we are on this earth.