Brahms’ Restless Spirit
BU Orchestra, Chorus perform tomorrow at Symphony Hall
Listen to a selection from Brahms’ Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54.
Promising an evening of darkly beautiful melodies and poignant meditations on love and fate, BU talent will showcase rarely performed choral works and a piano quartet by Johannes Brahms at Symphony Hall tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.
The concert, titled The Restless Spirit: Music of Johannes Brahms, brings together the BU Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus at one of the world’s finest concert halls. A preconcert lecture at 7 p.m. will feature the insights of Brahms scholar Joel Sheveloff, a College of Fine Arts professor of music, musicology, and ethnomusicology, who retires from teaching in May after 46 years. Sheveloff continues to offer an impassioned defense of a composer he describes as underappreciated, especially in Boston, where, he says, “there has been a lot of bad feeling about Brahms since the early days.”
Three short choral works — “Nänie,” Op. 82, “Alto Rhapsody,” Op. 53, and Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54 — are secular compositions, difficult pieces long overshadowed by Brahms’ well-known Requiem and other religious works, according to Ann Howard Jones, a CFA professor of music and director of orchestral activities, who will conduct along with David Hoose, a CFA professor and director of orchestral activities.
The complex works speak (in Brahms’ German) of gods of Greek mythology, and include a meditation on lost love through such tales as Venus and Adonis. Sheveloff’s interpretation: “We make heaven on Earth and something always goes wrong.”
Other pieces lament man’s vulnerability through the tale of Achilles, and Schicksalslied, the darkest of the pieces, the song of fate, was Brahms’ way of conveying that “life stinks and then you die,” says Sheveloff, winner of the 2004 Metcalf Cup and Prize, the University’s highest teaching honor. “The point is, men are born to suffer. It’s the most dramatic piece Brahms ever wrote.”
People “have trouble hearing” Brahms, he continues, describing his drive to teach the 19-century Romantic composer as “the tragedy of my life.” Brahms’ music is demanding for musicians and listeners alike. In the choral pieces, Jones explains, Brahms “gives singers a chance to use the full tonal and dynamic spectrum of their voices: unison when he wants to illustrate powerful phrases, four-part male chorus to accompany the lonely youth in the Harz mountains in winter, a cappella chorus to contrast with the full choral and orchestral forces, and beautiful soaring vocal lines using the entire range of the voice.”
After intermission, the orchestra will return sans chorus to perform Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25, orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg, whose arrangement went unpublished until 1972, 22 years after he died.
Jones describes the program as a wonderful opportunity for students. Brahms takes young musicians “into a world of color, tonal exploration, counterpoint, rhythmic complexity, dynamic exploitation, and rubato,” meaning music not precisely on the beat. All these concepts, she adds, “are challenging and enticing for the musicians.”
The Restless Spirit: Music of Johannes Brahms will be performed by the BU Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Chorus on Tuesday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m., at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston; a talk by CFA Professor Joel Sheveloff precedes the concert, at 7 p.m. More information and tickets are available here.
Susan Seligson can be reached at email@example.com.