Thursday, May 5, 2011


I am repeatedly struck by the beauty and depth of Brahms's music; his A German Requiem is possibly my favorite work of all time. I was thinking about him yesterday during a great conversation with some writer friends about the fear that what you have to say has been said before. We've all had that fear, right? You've had an amazing novel about a cat with laser vision on the back burner for years, and this summer's blockbuster turns out to be Laser Dog, starring Dwayne Johnson and an adorable Shih Tzu. Or you're totally inspired to write a second person epic poem, and then everybody's writing them. We have all been there.

But imagine writing music -- specifically, symphonies -- after Beethoven. By the time Brahms came around, Beethoven had changed music forever. Some people even wondered if our entire tonal system had been played out to its fullest extent, and if the only way to move forward was to scrap it and start over.

How difficult that must have been for Brahms, trying to create art in Beethoven's infinitely dark and infinitely long shadow. And he was not about to write a symphony unless it did justice to the legacy Beethoven had left.

But he did it. It took him more than 20 years to write his first symphony, but he did it. Turns out, he did have something to say.

Yes. That's a mantra we can all get behind.

Incidentally, during my painstaking research for this post on Goodsearch Images, I learned that OMG YOUNG BRAHMS WAS A TOTAL FOX.

Holy crap. And all this time, I thought Liszt was supposed to have been the hottest composer ever. Wow. It just goes to show --

Oh. Oh, right.

Sorry, Brahms. You're still a genius and everything.


  1. What an inspiring - and delightful - post. My favorite line: "infinitely dark and infinitely long shadow." Do you by any chance have your MFA in Writing? :)

    I actually think Brahms is foxier. Liszt looks a bit . . . needy.

  2. You made some great points about the daunting task of the creative. Using Brahms is a great example of how we should continue spite our predecessors.
    I was thinking; artists/creatives should be more like the weather. Snow doesn't care if it's snowed before. It snows because that's what snow does, it's pre-determined. We don't have the same weather patterns every year (aside from the seasons). It fluctuates and changes regardless. We should all fool ourselves into this same mentality.

  3. @Susannah, funny you should mention it, I do indeed have my MFA from the most Brahmsworthy school in the northeast, where they let you make up your own adjectives! :) I do see your point about Liszt -- that smoldering stare across a crowded room would be delicious, but across the dinner table or while you're trying to watch a movie . . . maybe just creepy.

    @Todd, I love your weather analogy! (You should read Snowflake Bentley if you haven't!) You're absolutely right. Snow is perfectly confident about being snow. We should take its example.