Magazine article The New Yorker

Hand in Glove

Magazine article The New Yorker

Hand in Glove

Article excerpt

Hand in Glove

Leon Botstein explores Brahms's relationship to his artist friends.

The provocative art of Max Klinger was a surprising enthusiasm of the composer Johannes Brahms.

Amid the cultural turmoil of late-nineteenth-century Europe--driven, most powerfully, by the revolutionary operas of Richard Wagner--Johannes Brahms continued to explore the early-nineteenth-century musical genres perfected by Beethoven: the symphony, the sonata, and the concerto, forms in which the composer used craftsmanship to transform pure emotion into musical structure. Brahms did keep up with the trends of his time, of course, if only to be familiar with the kinds of music he positioned his own works against. But his keen interest in the visual art of his day is less well known--an aspect of his creativity that Leon Botstein will explore with The Orchestra Now T/N in their latest concert at the Metropolitan Museum, "Sight and Sound: Brahms, Menzel, and Klinger" (Jan. 29).

Late in his career, Brahms came to know the painters Adolph Menzel, whose work combined penetrating realism with proto-Impressionist brushwork, and Arnold Bocklin, who became renowned for such mysterious but classically grounded works as "Island of the Dead." In Botstein's view, Brahms shared with these artists a "creative if inspired historicism" and a "bittersweet, nostalgic ethos" that had parallels in the composer's symphonic music. But Brahms's friendship with Max Klinger, a younger man whose work he began to know in the eighteen-seventies, is the most fascinating of all. …

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