Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Honk if Brahms blows you away

My friend Laura, a regular and faithful reader of this Blog, emailed me this photo. It's of an actual bumper sticker that appears to be intended for classical music nerds.

Bumper stickers, along with T-Shirts, are how people communicated before the Al Gore invented the Internet.

In this case, they got it all wrong. It's like comparing apples and oranges.

Why would anyone want to contrast the Brahms Piano Concerto #1 Op. 15 with the 6th Branderberg Concerto of J.S. Bach (BWV 1046)?

Different era. Different kind of music. Different musical conceptions. Different musical language. Different musical vision.

But the erroneous idea of comparing such disparate forms of musical composition reminds me of a story...

Leonard Bernstein was a guest on a popular TV talk program produced by PBS called Agronsky & Company in the early 1970s. The host, Martin Agronsky, was a respected journalist but not an expert in the arts. Bernstein was a big name, and Agronsky was glad to have such a noted celebrity on his TV show.

At one point Martin Agronsky naively asked Bernstein, "how come there are no good composers living today?" You could see Bernstein become agitated. In those days everyone smoked on TV talk shows, and Lenny took an extra puff before releasing his venom.

"Of course there are great composers today!" exclaimed Bernstein. "I think the Copland Piano Sonata is a better piece than the Brahms Piano Sonata."

Agronsky looked shell-shocked. Clearly he hadn't heard either work. What was he to say now? Feeling trapped and in a corner, Agronsky quickly changed the subject to something he felt more comfortable with.

For the remainder of the interview Bernstein grew more and more annoyed.