Monday, 30 October 2000

Johannes Brahms

Listening to:

Oscar Peterson's finest hour.

Just read:

Jan Swafford, Johannes Brahms.

I really enjoyed this biography. I feel I know more about the nature of the man behind the music, and more too about the nature of the times in which he lived. Brahms was certainly a very interesting character. He had many admirable qualities, and many character flaws as well. He was loyal to his family and friends, generous and could be a good-humoured companion. On the other hand, he kept himself to himself, not revealing much of what he really thought, took his foul moods out on others with a startling lack of tact, and was generally rather callous about others’ feelings.

The biography is full of discussion about the music, with accompanying excerpts from it written out. I understand a little music theory (I know what a major third is, and I know how to find out exactly what a diminished seventh is), and can read music. Unfortunately, I can’t read music and gain a sense of what the notes sound like. I should really get myself into a choir or something to remedy this. As it stands, I’d really have to get out my clarinet to play through the phrases. In any case, the sometimes quite extended discussions certainly made me want to get up and listen to my recordings of the various works.

I felt the biography was generally well-written. The penultimate chapter, containing the description of Brahms's last days was really quite affecting. However, there also seemed to be a patch where Swafford got all too fond of the word “eponymous”. It’s a good word, sure, but to refer to Christ as “the eponymous founder of the Christian religion” is ridiculous.

To read next:

George C. Williams, Plan and purpose in Nature. More non-fiction, but science this time. Of the popular science I read, I tend to enjoy the biological stuff most, so I have high hopes for this.