Let me start by saying that I am probably the only Chicagoan who likes the 2003 addition to Soldier Field.
This week conductor Kent Nagano programmed Brahms’s A German Requiem with interludes by Wolfgang Rhim, a contemporary composer. Few were happy about it, some even offended.
For example, Sounds & Fury author A.C. Douglas:
“By the time of the death of Beethoven (1827), just about every piece of music written by composers everywhere that wasn’t written as incidental music for something else constituted, or aspired to constitute, a single, unified, organic whole no matter how many movements the work comprised.”
“And such is Brahms’s seven-movement German Requiem, the bulk of which was composed in 1866, the work completed in 1868. To interject any other music, no matter how seemingly appropriate, between those seven organically unified movements can be considered as nothing other than a philistine act of willful vandalism, as I’ve already remarked, no matter how well intentioned.”
“Or is this just another instance of the pervasive, imbecile and equalitarian postmodern lunacy which, on one hand, attempts to make classical music more understandable to the ignorant masses, and especially to the ignorant young, by presenting the great masterpieces of the past in such a way as to make them more “accessible,” “relevant,” and “entertaining” no matter the violence done to those masterpieces in the process; and on the other, attempts to give voice to the largely creatively impotent present by altering those great masterpieces through the agency of imposing on them a “relevant” contemporary commentary or twist?”
Then I read this in the program notes:
“In fact, at that Bremen premiere, Brahms himself inserted selections by J.S. Bach, Giuseppe Tartini, and Robert Schumann between the fourth and fifth movements.”
Does that make Brahms a vandal? Today, as I quietly sat in on an interview with WFMT’s Andrew Patner and Maestro Nagano, the conductor explained that Brahms himself added these insertions to explain the work to his audience, as A German Requiem, just like Beethoven’s Ninth, wasn’t warmly received and so radically new that Brahms felt the need to explain.
And I don’t want to give away too much of the interview, but Maestro Nagano had an interesting thing or two to say about tradition and its definition as well. (Andrew’s show is on Monday night’s at 10 p.m. on Chicago’s WFMT 98.7) Personally, I don’t get people’s obsession with tradition. In my opinion, just like nationalism, tradition is based on myths, imaginings and inventions. Just ask Eric Hobsbawm.
I am not a music critic nor scholar. In fact, I am a newbie. I did not have a strong feeling for or against the Rhim interludes. I do, however, have strong feelings about artistic audacity and courage, even where it might not be well-received. And, even if I might not like it.