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Oct 16

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Morning Music: Johannes Brahms

Johannes BrahmsThe Romantic period brought out the worst in mediocre composers. Pretty much any Classical composer could grind out an acceptable piece of music. But that just isn’t so in the Romantic period. I blame Beethoven who inspired many people who shouldn’t have been inspired. Although in a fundamental sense Beethoven was the greatest composer of this period (transitional though he may have been), I prefer to listen to Johannes Brahms.

Brahms was a protege of Robert Schumann, who was probably the biggest influence on the young composer. They became friends when Brahms was only 20 years old. This may be why Brahms was considered a conservative composer, at least compared to the other dominant composers of the time. But this gets to my general problem with Romantic music. The excesses of the period are well on display in Wagner and Liszt. What’s more, I find Brahms constantly innovative, just not in such a flashy way. His Symphony No 1 is a great example of restrained brilliance. Not that he couldn’t be more ostentatious as he is in the Violin Concerto in D.

But of the most interest to modern listeners is probably Brahms’ work with folk tunes. That’s especially true of the Hungarian Dances. And since I know from experience that people will not listen to hour long symphonies or concertos, here are numbers 5, 6, 7, and 17 — used in the Merrie Melodies classic, Pigs in a Polka:

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2 comments

  1. Lawrence

    His fourth symphony is my favorite. Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy is another good one from the period.

    1. Frank Moraes

      I felt a bit bad giving him the Looney Tunes treatment. At the same time, the Warner Bros cartoons used Romantic period composers a lot. I think everyone of my generation was introduced to Wagner from Elmer and Bugs. The fourth symphony is a great example of mature Romantic music in its best form. Listening to Romantic music this week, I’ve been struck by the fact that the icons of the period really created great music. My problem with the period is that as a player, I was forced to play a lot of really mediocre music. That’s an indication of the period not generating any great works for flute. That’s in stark contrast to both the Baroque and modern periods, which were fantastic for the instrument. But I recently took up the clarinet. I’m starting with Baroque; it’s so much easier than the 20th century works I picked up the instrument for. I’m not sure if the Romantic period is any better for the clarinet than for the flute. But the Classical period certainly is!

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