Did Brahms REALLY say that?

June 27, 2006

BrahmsMusicologist (or not?) Arthur M. Abell chats with many of our favorite turn of the [last] century composers in his book “Talks With Famous Composers.” I bring this to your attention not so much to endorse whether this guy was a charlatan or not, but some of the things Brahms supposedly said are quite interesting.

The part that struck me in the Brahms section, was not so much the “I’m channeling God” stuff, but rather the “[I] lose consciousness” part. Sometimes when I’m composing, and the music is really flowing, my head plops down on the paper and I fall asleep. I hear psychologists refer to that as the brain generating alpha waves. Whatever: I get sleepy when I compose and it’s the darndest thing.

(I’m also a hard-core nap taker (as is most of my family), and I will take 4 to 7 naps a day in the summer or on sabbatical ranging from 1 minute to 20 minutes. The day starts over each time; morning being my favorite time to compose, I have as many mornings as I have naps!)

The book is an interesting read whether these conversations really took place (which would be really significant) or whether the book is a complete fabrication, and then it’s amazing that this man seemed to have respect and an “in” to the musical society of his day but was in reality a complete phony. Somethings never change.

After a lofty conversation about omnipotence, deity, spirit, and so on, he discusses the effect of being in touch with this divine essence as a composer.]

I immediately feel vibrations that thrill my whole being. […] Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration. Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare, inspired moods, as they were to Tartini when he composed his greatest work –– the Devil’s Trill Sonata. I have to be in a semi-trance condition to get such results –– a condition when the conscious mind is in temporary abeyance and the subconscious is in control, for it is through the subconscious mind, which is a part of Omnipotence, that the inspiration comes. I have to be careful, however, not to lose consciousness, otherwise the ideas fade away.

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