I often listen to music when writing my stories. Beethoven, Shostakovich and Elgar help my fingers fly over the keyboard. Yesterday evening I was listening to a CD recording of the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms. Although I have heard it countless times on recordings as well as in the concert hall, its electrifying opening with its pounding tympani never fails to excite me. The composer was already in his forty-third year by the time he completed the symphony. It wouldn’t have been easy for Brahms to write this work because he saw himself as working very much in the shadow of the great Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms’s First Symphony was fourteen in years in the making.
Brahms saw himself as working in the classical tradition. He really didn’t have a lot of time for the “new music” of Richard Wagner or Hector Berlioz. It is ironic perhaps that although Brahms considered Beethoven to be the god of the pure classical tradition, the master himself, whilst Brahms was working of his First Symphony, was moving in new directions with the completion of his great Ninth (“Choral”) Symphony with its stupendous “Ode to Joy” chorale in the final movement.
If ever I need to remind myself that there must be another spiritual dimension beyond our understanding, I only need to listen to a great symphony orchestra in full flight. Where does all that glorious music that can move me to tears and laughter almost at the same moment come from?