Brahms and his fourth symphony
This, the last symphony written by Brahms is the swan song of Europe. First performed in 1885, the last great work of classical music in the Romantic tradition founded by Beethoven, coincides with the historical events that would culminate in the end of civilization with the tragic events of the 20th century. The 4th symphony is one of the last gasps of all that was once great about the Western World.
It is a work steeped in idealism, tradition, and a longing for beauty and the greatest good. The ideals within the music are related to the philosophies of Athens, and German Romanticism such as Schiller. The music is born from a world view which was rooted in pre-industrialized life. God was still God, and the job of the poet and intellectual was to celebrate man’s unity with the world he lived in. Harmony of the mind, soul, and body with nature was the goal. This was the world before Marxism. Before Nietzsche’s ‘Super Man’. Before Freud reduced all human behaviour to being nothing but the by-product of sexual impulses. Before the existence of the human soul was denied by the intellectual charlatans of post-modernism.
After Brahms, Wagner’s influence in music and philosophy became immense. From that point on it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to theories about social Darwinism, the obsession with ‘blood and soil’ and ultimately the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Escaping the terrible aftermath of those ideas which wreaked havoc on the world, and with which we still live with, is still possible thanks to fanciful flights of the imagination. And 125 years after it was given to the world, the beauty of the work is still as overwhelming.
From the first bars, the composer seizes the listener and takes you on a mental hike through the Black Forest. The power of the music is enhanced by just the slightest amount of restraint. For me this is a dose of life as I would have loved to experience it. A small German hamlet where all goods are delivered by horses-buggies and the water you drink is imbued with the unmistakable characteristics of a fresh mountain spring.