Something out of nothing
February 1, 2015 4:54 AM   Subscribe

A Sunday morning is a fine time to listen to Leonard Bernstein discuss Brahms' 4th symphony, complete with crackling vinyl noise.
posted by Wolfdog (8 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, thank you for this! This will be deliciously devoured.
Also, this is the magic of today's technology: a symphony, written over 100 years ago, lovingly decoded on a record, made over 50 years ago, playing here, today, in my hand, on my phone, making me catapult in time backwards. I love living in the future.
posted by missmary6 at 5:37 AM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes.Yes, it is. Thank you, wolfdog.
posted by Dashy at 6:19 AM on February 1, 2015

That was perfect for this morning.

I could listen to Bernstein talk about potatoes.
posted by bilabial at 8:23 AM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've recently realized that I don't understand Brahms. This will help.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:28 AM on February 1, 2015

This is an amazing recording, Bernstein can talk about music like very few people have ever been able to.

I've recently realized that I don't understand Brahms. This will help.

Most definitely. What Bernstein gets about Brahms, and rightly emphasizes, is that you have to attune to development. (That is, in a formal musical sense, not a vernacular, 'things changing' sense.) Once you can hear the initial idea and then follow how Brahms just plays with it, uses it to make other ideas, recontextualizes it, combines it with other things, etc., you're really following his main ideas. Bernstein is particularly great about helping listeners with the most difficult part of thoughtful listening, literally following an idea in time, as things keep whizzing past.

If you really want to start to hear this aspect of music, I also recommend Bernstein's lecture What Makes Music Symphonic? (transcript here) In it he conveys that the basic aspect that distinguishes 'symphonic' music from other music is development. All music develops in some way, of course, but development in symphonic music is a particularly specific and fundamental aspect of musical art in that mode.

The easiest way to hear symphonic development in the linked example is to listen to the fourth movement: it starts with eight chords, played in succession, and only that--very clear. Every successive group of eight measures in that movement is a repeat of those eight chords, over and over again, with all kinds of variations drawn out of them. Really, you can sit there and count (3 beats per measure), and you'll hear that eight-bar grouping over and over. And be amazed at what Brahms can pull out of such limited source material.

This process generates a large-scale form called 'continuous variation,' of which there are two main types: the kind I just mentioned, based upon a repeating chord progression (usually called a chaconne); and the kind based upon a repeating melody usually first heard in the bass instruments (usually called a passacaglia). And as the great music scholar/thinker Richard Crawford emphasized many times, perception of form is key to a meaningful musical experience.*

*For more random, unsolicited music theory facts, please subscribe to my newsletter.

posted by LooseFilter at 8:55 AM on February 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

Or for more Bernstein on Musicology (with a detour into 70s-era Chomsky), see The Unanswered Question, a series of recordings of his lecture series at Harvard.
posted by persona at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2015

Most of my music theory professors in college were not this eloquent or easy to understand. Fantastic!
posted by rossination at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2015

Two weeks too late, but I just discovered this performance of Brahms' 4th by Celibidache and had to share it. Wow.
posted by mubba at 5:58 PM on February 13, 2015

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