An early morning in Vienna – what a gift! The city was already on the move, but the serenity of a peaceful night still lingered over little streets north and east of the Stephansdom. I had woken up early and could spare an hour between breakfast and my appointment at the United Nations to stroll around, to spend a moment or two inside the dome, accompanied by my good friend Johannes Brahms. Over my iPhone I listened to the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly performing Brahm’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. The opening reminded my of a short prayer, later the first movement features waltz-like elements – Good morning, Vienna!
You probably know this feeling: You have been to an extraordinary concert, you exit the concert hall, dumbfounded, unable to cast into words what you just heard. Here is a piece that has this effect upon me each time I listen to it: Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8. The emotional impact it has upon my soul and my body is hard to explain – an overwhelming experience every single time.
A contemplation? Perhaps. Nature? The evanescence of all things of natural origin perhaps. Birth and death, creation, destruction – an eternal cycle. In 1865 Johannes Brahms composed his Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn in E flat major (Op. 40), and the German writer Max Kahlbeck drew a link between this work and the death of Brahms’s mother. Brahms’ personal papers however do not refer to any such extra-musical influence. Perhaps Brahms enjoyed just the pleasure to write a wonderful piece of music, of intellectual interest and charming to the ear.
A morning prayer? A lament? A melancholic longing? Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor (Op. 38) strikes a deeply Romantic chord in my heart. The coexistence of distance and intimacy, of deep emotions and profound respect, these are weaved into the tissue of tragedy. What exactly did the composer have in mind? I don’t know. Brahms started to write in 1862 and finished it in 1865. In the meantime he had moved from Germany to Vienna, met Richard Wagner and at the end of 1865, Brahms’ mother had died.