Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Had he not died in 1897, Johannes Brahms would have been 180 years old today, 7 May 2013. A fair old age you might think.
Brahms at the age of 20

Had Brahms reached his 180th birthday and had he taken an interest in cricket, it is likely that he would be found on the side of those defending the integrity of Test cricket against the tide of T20, ODI and all the rest. For the 19th century musical world was dominated by an aesthetic dispute - the so called The War of the Romantics where there was disagreement about all manner of things - musical structure, the limits of chromatic harmony, programme versus absolute music and the wearing of coloured clothing during matches. 

Brahms took the side of the conservatives revering Beethoven as the highest pinnacle of achievement rather than a force setting off new progressive trends in music. 

But Brahms has not lived to be 180 and his views on the respective merits of Test and shorter form cricket have to be inferred since they are not known.

Indeed it is difficult to find much by way of interest to the cricketer in his work. But there is a flash of something in his German Requiem. This great work was first heard in 1866, the year in which WG Grace at the age of 18 scored 224* which stood for many years as the highest first class score in cricket. Was this an influence on Brahms? Conventional accounts suggest that the work was written in memory of his mother who died in the previous year.

Whatever the stimulus to composition the German Requiem is a great work. It sets a number of texts from the Lutheran Bible and are chosen for the comfort they give to the mourning. Its second movement would seem specially composed to comfort Doughty Groundsmen facing major challenges in preparing playing surfaces. The text is taken from the first Book of Peter - in German it goes

Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. Das Gras ist verdorret und die Blume abgefallen.

In English, it is less resonant but still powerful

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falleth away.

Many a time has FB come across a Doughty Groundsman slumped over the scarifier with the words 'Das Gras ist verdorret' on his lips.  When that happens only a dose of Brahms will help.

FB's old vinyl recording of this work featured the Edinburgh Festival Chorus - the Morningside accents of the choir clearly articulating the text.  No Morningside accents are on this rendition conducted by the German maestro Otto Klemperer in 1961.  This is how to build a climax.

It is likely that Otto Klemperer, who was reknowned for his fondness for slow tempi, would have sided with Test cricket against T20 and stuff.  But we shall never know.


  1. Its bad enough that you sent me back to the Old man and the Sea earlier this week - now I have the German Requiem stuck in my head!

    No doubt the 'naked classics' Ring will dislodge it this evening!

    1. Enjoy the concert. FB at children's theatre festival.