BRAHMS AND OUR PASSION
To honor Debbie Sobol’s vision to provide a listening moment each month of 2014, Rush Hour Concerts’ 15th anniversary year, we are pleased to share edited excerpts from her previous writings found in the RHC archives, that seem particularly appropriate for our current weather.
It’s February, and here in Chicago we’re having a blast of winter the likes of which we have not seen in recent years. February is the shortest month of the year, but the cold and dark make it feel like one of the longest. As I write this, yet another snowstorm is raining down upon us like an endless salt-shaker in the sky. I’m reminded of an opening line from A Child’s Christmas in Wales, “Winter in my memory is as white as Lapland.”
And yet, in February we counteract all this white with Red – fire, love, passion, hearts, roses: Valentine’s Day – the perfect antidote to winter’s white. Words capture love and romance very well. What of music, that “language of the emotions” that doesn’t rely on words to convey? Here, in February, my mind and heart turn annually to the music of Johannes Brahms. I think Brahms knew all about passion and love. His unrequited love of Clara Schumann, his mentor’s wife, lasted a lifetime. His music is infused with passion, strength, longing, and tenderness.
My favorite Brahms pieces for are the Liebeslieder Waltzes (love song waltzes) for piano four hands and vocal quartet. The text is from “Polydora,” a poem written by George Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875) translated here. The music is lush and luscious. Each of the 18 songs of Op. 52 is like eating individual chocolates from a box, one more delicious than the next.
Recently, I braved the cold and darkness to attend a concert. As I took my seat, I tried to warm up and settle into the right frame of mind to hear and enjoy the music. For me, that means taking a mental deep breath, watching people in the audience, and reading program notes. There was a lot of conversation, laughter and excited interaction amongst the crowd. Then as the lights dimmed and the performers made their way onstage, the hall fell silent and expectant. The dark silence we created was the perfect backdrop for the glorious concert those artists gave us. It made the beauty of the music that much more exquisite.
Francis Bacon said,”ln order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” Chicago is especially glorious in the spring and summer in contrast to the lingering memory of the dark of winter. February can be tough, but when the first whiff of spring floats by in late March and April, it is intoxicating. Although some might disagree, the stark contrast of the seasons makes Chicago a crazy and wonderful place to live.
The same theory holds true with music. That backdrop of complete silence, even if only momentary, creates a tension and anticipation that amplifies the experience and allows the light of the music to shine with brilliance.
Remember, as you brave the cold and gloom, that warmth and light are just around the corner.
I wish you happy listening, reading and loving this month!
Listen to a performance of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes (love song waltzes). Enjoy!
For those readers interested in the combination of music, romance and intrigue, Arthur Rubenstein’s biography, My Young Years, is a wonderful read. He shared my passion for Brahms, and his recording, “The Brahms I Love” is a cornerstone of every pianist and music lover’s library.