Brahms Looks Back on Success and Failure

A hint of melancholy. © Charles Thibo

Back at my meditation point. I have been there a few days ago, it was the photographic setting of the post published on All Souls Day, and as a keen observer you have recognized the iconic shape of the dead tree. Of course. So here I am again, this time for a recapitulation of a whole life. Not mine, no, but the life of a composer I have grown fond of: Johannes Brahms. In 1891 he wrote the Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op. 115)  for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, to whom he also dedicated his Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op. 114).

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A serene morning stroll with Johannes Brahms

Vienna. © Charles Thibo

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!

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Overwhelmed by a sparkling trio of divine length

After the concert. © Charles Thibo

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.

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Brahms writes an eulogy to Nature

Evanescence. © Charles Thibo

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.

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