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CSO Beyond the Score Review – Taking Ideas About Brahms Out for a Stroll

By Amy Munice

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Exasperated with overthought comments about his work, Brahms was quoted as saying to a contemporary, “Instead of spending so much time reading why don’t you take your ideas out for a stroll!”

 

 

That was one “Beyond the Score” gem of many we learned about Brahms and the story of his time in Wiesbaden composing his Symphony No. 3.   One imagines that in modern day parlance the exasperated Brahms might say, “It’s just beautiful music. What don’t you get?”

 

 

The genius of this most recent “Beyond the Score”—and EVERY “Beyond the Score” presentation has the touch of genius -- was in how Creative Director Gerard McBurney’s script first deconstructs Brahms’ work and then repeatedly moves on to deconstruct its own deconstruction in Brahms own words. 

 

 

Many ideas of the work are put into the air as though pasting together a collage.  The end result was an effect more akin to that of a poem about Brahms’ Third Symphony than the feel of the narrative exposition it actually was.

 

Early on we see the notes of the short melody described by McBurney as “hurdy gurdy” that is the theme of the first movement, and later reprised in the third and how its many permutations were elaborated throughout the score.  It’s a “Eureka” moment for many of us seeing how the great composer created his themes with repetitions done with shifting colors.  But later, we get to hear Brahms say the equivalent of “Bah humbug” to such dissections, suggesting that his score hewed to this theme simply because that’s all he could think of.

 

 

How perfect too to learn that Sinatra’s famous melody taken from Brahms No. 3–

 

 

somewhat missed the mark in terms of aping Brahms’ shift from weak beat to strong beat.

 

We learn that Brahms’ mentor and great fan Schumann tried to drown himself in the Rhine three decades before Brahms settled near this river to write his third symphony.  This was as if to say, “it’s not just any old river” and we see its image throughout the presentation.

 

 

And then perhaps most startling of all to those of us who hadn’t paid much attention to the bass players, we learn that Brahms said, “..The only thing that has meaning for me is the bass. This is the sacred strong footing upon which I build my melodies…”.

 

This and much more—we are immersed in Brahms’ time, mind, and melodies—the proven “Beyond the Score” recipe that never fails.

 

 

After intermission, with these forensics of this great symphony still tingling our thoughts we then got to hear the full uninterrupted symphony with new ears and with images of Brahms and his time rushing before us like the fast-flowing Rhine. 

 

Music experiences don’t get any better than this!

 

The Beyond the Score series by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra wraps up with focus on Ravel in June.  For tickets and information call 312 294 3000 or visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra website.

 

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Photos:  Todd Rosenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published on Mar 31, 2015

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