excerpt from 'Letters of composers : an anthology, 1603-1945 / compiled and edited by Gertrude Norman and Miriam Lubell Shrifte.' pp. 211,212 (730 words)

excerpt from 'Letters of composers : an anthology, 1603-1945 / compiled and edited by Gertrude Norman and Miriam Lubell Shrifte.' pp. 211,212 (730 words)

part of

Letters of composers : an anthology, 1603-1945 / compiled and edited by Gertrude Norman and Miriam Lubell Shrifte.

original language

urn:iso:std:iso:639:ed-3:eng

in pages

211,212

type

text excerpt

encoded value

Today I am writing to you in a state of inexpressible stupefaction! The reason is Brahms’s Second Symphony in D. I read it through yesterday morning and I heard it the same day at the Concert Populaire. And this is the man whom some rank above, and others beside, Schumann! Schumann, the great poet, powerful, inspired, whose every note is individual – and the author of the Second Symphony in D – it’s absolutely grotesque. / Brahms is a second-rate mind. He has dug up every corner in modern harmony and counterpoint - that’s his only importance. He is not a born musician, his invention is always insignificant or derivative, and in his latest symphony the pastiche is especially flagrant. I have carefully kept up with all his chamber music; it holds together well because it is based on solid study, but his invention is hesitant, and one senses a man who is searching right and left for what he does not find in himself; further, under the pretext of increasing the sonority, there is an intolerable abuse of unison (Beethoven understood harmony well enough to appreciate the unison, but with his gift for sonority he did not need this ridiculous method). / Finally came the Piano Quintet. In the ensemble of this work there is an outburst that made me hope that the composer had at last found himself. Alas, the works that followed, always strongly steeped in laboured research, are absolutely insignificant as to invention. Since these last chamber-music compositions I have seen nothing by this man, and before yesterday’s concert I had never heard his orchestral works. / Perhaps you will tell me that Pasdeloup’s performance is not good. Maybe so, but it is the same for everyone, and Pasdeloup has worked very hard on this symphony, which, as a matter of fact, is not difficult. Now, at the same concert they played Mozart’s G-minor Symphony, which seems like a dwarf when placed next to an orchestral page by Beethoven. Beside the Brahms symphony it seemed like a colossus. The first and last movements show paltry and old-fashioned invention and they are full of parches of Mendelssohn and Beethoven in all the themes serving as basis for development. The Andante is in contrast to these two puerile movements, but it is no less boring; it gives me the impression of some one who puts on air of terrible and profound conviction to keep repeating sentences like the following in a cavernous voice: “The flash of this sabre is the most beautiful light of my life! The chariot of stage navigates on a volcano!” The Scherzo is a nice little genre piece. / As for Brahms’s instrumentation – I am completely dumbfounded. He understands nothing about selecting timbres; he orchestrates like a pianist, and if one of us had written such mediocre orchestration, the rest of us would say: “My dear fellow, you have possibilities but hurry back to the schoolroom.” / To sum up, the quintet, which I thought would be the point of departure of a vigorous old boy who, finally coming into his full power, was going to give us a series of remarkable works, is, on the contrary, the apogee of a composer who had done nothing but stumble around, and his latest symphony is below the level of his weakest quartet. / A stupid scene occurred at this concert; people whistled and hissed; these were the same idiots who had just encored an absurd guitar piece by Taubert. Well, I applauded as hard as I could, only because extremes attract extremes, and I think it monstrous for imbeciles to whistle at an artist whose value I dispute because his partisan overrate him, but who nevertheless, has an incontestable values. As for his symphony, I tell you again, it deserves neither applause nor catcalls. The same evening I saw Saint-Saëns; his opinion of the symphony is the same as mine. / This is a very long letter, but it will show you what regard the musicians on the other side of the Rhine had for Brahms and his reputation since all of them went out of their way to admire the mountain that had been promised them; it isn’t their fault if the mountain gave birth to only a mouse.

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excerpt from 'Letters of composers : an anthology, 1603-1945 / compiled and edited by Gertrude Norman and Miriam Lubell Shrifte.' pp. 211,212 (730 words)

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