The Vienna Symphony Orchestra Concert: A Reflection on the Eternality of Music
I was recently privileged to join the crowds of Manhattan in attending the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s concert at Lincoln Center. The concert consisted of two beautiful pieces: Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and Brahms’s Symphony No.2 in D major. The concept of music generally, of prodigious compositional skills and composers’ productions particularly, became more striking with each note, more intriguing with each movement. Hearing a piece from a stone-deaf composer followed by the work of a man trying to preserve the classical symphonic repertoire against the oncoming musical influences within modernism, one cannot resist being swept into history, into two-hundred-year-old conflicts concerning identity, loneliness, preservation and change. This experience was an unbelievable opportunity, and highly recommended for any individual who strives to feel conscious of his or her place in the obscure timeline we dub “history.”
A piece by Beethoven is bound to be emotionally involved both because of its place in Beethoven’s personal life as well as its brilliant compositional elements. As the playbill explains, the Triple Concerto was one of Beethoven’s first works to be composed after his falling completely deaf in 1802. Yet hearing this beautiful, sweeping melody with its dramatic gestures and its sweet, playful transfers of melody from one instrument to another casts aside all doubt as to whether Beethoven could “hear” his music. The listener quickly becomes convinced of Beethoven’s ability to experience and touch his music, to truly “hear” his music, despite a severe physical handicap, through his employment of dynamical variations and his experiments with volume. Occasionally, Beethoven has the violin perform a few gentle bars followed by an increase in volume, the addition of the cello, and finally by the sweeping motions of the entire orchestra into what might feel to be a sort of tidal wave, a crescendo of sound.
One never feels as though an instrument must “stand” on its own in Beethoven’s music, for there is always a soft background harmony, always a sharing of the melody between the violin, cello, and piano, always a sense of the instruments conversing with one another. Beethoven might have lost physical hearing, leaving him in a lonely position as a member of society. However, the masterful nature revealed in all his works proves how loud the music of Beethoven truly was, how not alone Beethoven was in the sea of the orchestra, the sea of melody. To both hearing as well as deaf ears, Beethoven may be heard.
Educationally, the structure of the concert provided the listener with a sense of time travel, an ability to experience Romantic music from its founder to one of its prime composers, Brahms. Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 brings an expanded orchestra, a common feature in Brahms’s compositions. He takes advantage of the full range of sound, making for an interesting choice in tone color and in instrumentation, for Brahms does not include a piano part in this work. The listener feels as though on a mission with the orchestra, moving through vast landscapes of greenery at some moments, through foreboding woodlands at others. The darker tones in Brahms’s piece help the listener understand the transition and development of the Romantic repertoire from Beethoven and into the late nineteenth century, into an era of confusion and mixed emotions, a true Romantic experience.
Most enjoyably, the experience of being surrounded by music, music composed inside the minds of some of the most brilliant men ever to live, allows one to feel as though he or she is somehow forming a relationship with the composer. So often we find ourselves in awe of technology, in awe of our ability to record, replay, and re-experience life over and over again. Yet we tend to overlook the delicate aspects of life, the things technology and its embellishments fail to comprehend and appreciate. So often we crave a time-machine, a way to relive the past, a way to be present. Being in the presence of a work of Beethoven or a symphony of Brahms is a better time machine than any video recorder or magical transporter any day. Contrary to all notions of science and physical limitations, a true listener is in communication with the deceased composer, feeling each note, measure, and movement with the same intensity as though receiving a personal letter from the composer, a letter addressed to him or her centuries in the future. The deafest of men can often speak the loudest; the most modern of men can hear the past’s words most clearly.
One needn’t be afraid of having a limited musical background; one needn’t be scared of his or her disinterest in classical music. Rather, taking the emotional and intellectual risk to possibly enjoy the other, the other kind of music, the “outdated” or “classical,” will surely prove rewarding to all who desire a fresh experience. I highly recommend attending an orchestral performance, as you are sure to encounter sounds, sights, and feelings never touched previously. You will see one method for expressing the otherwise inexpressible: music.