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As of April 2020, the Davidsbündler have been on the web for 24 years. The site has become an extensive collection of essays on music, translations of German poetry into English, and other items of interest to the members of the Bund -- but the overriding principle is that Art can never satisfy the spiritual needs of mankind if it merely pleases the senses. The soul of Art is irony, the mind's delight in discovering unexpected, new meaning at every turn.
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In August of 2018, the state-owned railway company of Germany, Deutsche Bahn, announced a plan to discourage homeless people and drug users from congregating in their facilities, by playing recordings of atonal music. There was an immediate, furious response from the "new music" community. What's the story here?
We have added a translation of an excerpt from a letter by Johannes Brahms, describing the death of Schumann. And from the same source, Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters by Styra Avens, we have a glimpse into Brahms' sense of humor. He teases his friend and publisher, Fritz Simrock, writing: "How would it be if you made editions of the Lullaby in minor, for naughty or sickly children? That would be one more possibility for increasing the number of editions!" In 1884, he wrote to violist Alwin von Beckerath, who had sent a query about metronome markings for a string quartet: "...I can quite easily start you on a subscription for metronome markings. You pay me a tidy sum and each week I deliver to you -- different numbers; for with normal people, they cannot remain valid for more than a week." And finally, Brahms wrote the following poem to his friend Eusebius Mandyczewki the year before he died. It is untranslatable, so we provide it in the original German. Note the Spoonerisms:
Am 15. Mai 1896
Da sich am Freitag die Sonne gewendet,
Und so uns dreifach die Wonne gesendet
Die klar uns sehen läß, was netter,
Was schöner und besser, als naß Wetter,
Und wie sich des Glückes Blätter wenden-
So laß mich nimmer von Wetter blenden!
Natur beut wir am Tischl alle
Die Reize dar vom Ischlthale
Und von der Wetterseite her
Beruhigt sie mich heute sehr.
And while we're on the topic of Brahms, we have added a new translation of our own, with some commentary, of an exchange between Brahms and his friend Theodor Billroth on the topic of artistic beauty, in which Brahms attempts to come to Billroth's rescue by analyzing a poem by Goethe.
"The musical ars amandi wears itself out in all kinds of perversion, instead of asking whether it is not perhaps the most important thing, love, that is missing."
"Now it also becomes apparent, however, that both tendencies, apparently so mutually contradictory, towards unlimited freedom of interpretation on the one hand and literal rendering on the other, flow from the same source. Both stem from the deep insecurity of the age when faced with the great art of the past, the complete lack of any instinctively assured direction."
"...one of the main demands of properly symphonic music [is] the demand for organic development, the living and organic growth of every melodic, rhythmic, harmonic formation out of what has gone before."
"It is curious that the strict classical work, for anyone who has ever truly experienced it, becomes more important than all Slavic and Romance works, which are superficially much more colorful and lively. Hence the mysterious, defiant effect of Brahms: the effect of the profundity of the living context."
"Brahms' greatness lies in his strictness. Each of his works, whether large or small, sweet or tragic, is bound together as if with iron bonds."