Photography as Art

More than most other art forms, photography is intensely personal. Especially when photographing people, it is said that the product belongs more to the subject than the artist. It is those subjects who spark photographer Nicole Gee’s passion. Since the late 1980s, Nicole has been developing her eye for great images. Her artistry began when she trained under John Hershey, a talented commercial photographer in San Francisco. “I love people,” she says. “And I get great joy from capturing images that show a person the way a loved one might see them.” With Gee, her artistry is selfless. She believes her gift is God-given, and she uses it to create a uniquely special product, taking great joy in delivering that to the person to whom it belongs.

To know Nicole Gee is to experience true grace in action. Her loving spirit is contagious and spills over into everyone and everything she photographs. “You have to have fun with it,” she says. “That’s when a person’s true personality comes out. That’s when you catch the twinkle in their eye, the natural tilt of their head, their genuine smile.” She makes her sessions fun and engaging by taking the skill of photography and turning it into her unique style of art. For Gee, it is a cooperative art—a shared endeavor full of meaning and significance. “There’s no better way to remember a time in your life than a photo. The setting, the expression; all of it says something, and it is my job to interpret that message and make it into something that will be cherished.” 

There are certain milestones in our lives that deserve professional attention:  Newborns (from the sweet little fingers and toes, chubby little legs and arms), senior graduation, engagement and weddings, family life, up to and including the wisdom in the wrinkled face of a beloved grandparent.

Catching those moments begins with an innate ability to “see” the right shot, but isn’t complete without the technical skill and training necessary to create a quality image. “I began in commercial photography, but my real passion grew from creating great images of my children as they grew. When my oldest, Dan, was about to graduate, I took him to his favorite places. We went to the Mission District for his favorite burrito and stopped to capture some images there, then we breezed over to North Beach, China Town, and the Bay Bridge for more camera fun. I put it all into an album, and we ended up treasuring it so much, my husband encouraged me to do the same for other families. That is how Nicole Gee Photography was born.”

For the first few years, Gee focused on photographing high school seniors. “For most people, graduation sneaks up, and our precious babies are ready to leave before we are ready to let go,” she says. “Don’t settle for a photographer who spends five minutes with your child. This is a pivotal moment when your child is in transition–almost an adult, but not quite. They are so full of hope and joy. Don’t settle for the yearbook photographer. Do it right.” “Right” for Gee, isn’t just a senior portrait. Gee offers family sessions free of charge for every senior session booked. She knows, firsthand, what a bittersweet time it is when a child prepares to leave home, so she gets the family together in a relaxed session that highlights their relationships: mother and son, father and daughter, siblings hugging and teasing. Gee knows those opportunities don’t come back; you have to seize the moments while you can. After all, what’s the first thing you grab when your home is on fire? The pictures! Memories of the people we love are the most valuable things we have.

Gee’s gift for loving the people she photographs uniquely qualifies her for her latest passion, “lifestyle photography.” Imagine a photographer coming to your home for a few hours on a Saturday morning, catching those mundane moments that one day end up meaning everything; kids in their pjs, reading stories, having breakfast and doing whatever your family does during this season in your lives. Leave the house the way it is, spend your morning as you always do, and let someone document it all. The enduring value of those images is immeasurable.

Photos are art. They are worthy of displaying when done correctly. In the digital age, we are swimming with images to the point of saturation (do we really need to preserve the memory of yesterday’s dinner?). Wouldn’t you prefer one great image to a thousand that are just “meh”? Somehow, we have fallen into a society that is all about quantity rather than quality. We want more, we want it immediately, and we want it for less. As a result, we’ve gotten used to mediocrity. We keep hundreds of photos on our phones or computers rather than a few exceptional ones on our walls. A good photo is valuable—it will be remembered, and passed on for generations.

It goes without saying that Gee believes it is well worth it to invest in professional artistic photography. “Your payoff is the relief that a moment in time will remain forever and the satisfaction that you or a loved one has been immortalized in a way that brings back that feeling of emotional connection. Think about the love between a husband and wife, the beginning weeks of a new life, the moment before a graduate leaves home, the twilight years of a parent… in my mind, there are few things more important to remember.” 

Gee specializes in capturing all of life’s transitional moments. She begins with an initial consultation where she and a client discuss ideas and formulate a plan. Whether it be a grad session, a social media profile pic or a business portrait, Gee offers it all. She even photographs pets. After the consultation, a session is planned. This typically takes one to two hours with time for fun and outfit changes. After two weeks, she meets with you again and helps choose the images you love. Nicole Gee Photography is a full service photography studio and all her images are artfully retouched.

There is a trend since the digital age to hire a photographer and expect to receive the digital files as part of the service. Gee believes this is a disservice. She feels instead that art needs to be enjoyed every day, not left on a cd that sits in your desk drawer. “Put them on your walls,” she says. “Put them in a photo album or in a memory box. This is the best kind of art—meaningful and personal. It should be displayed.” 

During the most meaningful events in life, when you want to freeze the moment and savor the experience, it’s a wise choice to invest in professional photography. Gee recommends making sure the photographer is certified with Professional Photographers of America. “The process of certification is hard,” she says. “The applicant must take a 90 minute test and submit 20 images to be judges for lighting, posing, and more. It is a strenuous process.” It is also a good idea to check a photographer’s website. “Does her style fit with yours? Does she have a variety of examples? Look ahead of time at what you’ll be getting, and see if you like it.”

Gee also suggests you keep in mind that you’ll be spending time with this person. “Are they friendly and professional on the phone? Do you feel like you’ll get along well?” There is more to it than owning a great camera – you need to know lighting, posing, color, composition, etc. Nicole should know. If you look up nicolegeephotography.com and read her recommendations/kudos/compliments, you’ll see the words “comfortable,” “creative,” “patient,” and “fun” appear over and over again. And if you look at the photos, you’ll see that indefinable quality; that mixture of precise lighting, professional poses and genuine fun that produces the kind of photo you can’t wait to put on the wall.

After all, it is not just a photo, it is a work of art.

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll Keep Shylock

Recently an article appeared in a local newspaper in which the author suggested that we should consider eliminating Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” from the literary canon of the great Bard’s plays.  The anti-Semitic portrait of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, established the reason for the removal, or at least, for ignoring the play.  Shylock’s character certainly is thoroughly despicable, angry, vengeful and full of vitriolic hatred.  He is also, however, the most interesting character in the play, with only Portia coming even close.

As a not very religious but committed cultural Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism first hand, I would like to oppose any attempt to “banish” Shylock or the play.  And as one who has acted, directed, produced, written, and studied theater, literature, and Shakespeare for over half a century, I would extend my opposition to any play, novel, short story or any other work of art, so long as it does not advocate or incite any violence or threats.    

Shylock is, no question, despicable.  Even in his famous and sympathetic speech:

“Hath not a Jew eyes?   Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons. . .”

He loses his appeal, however, on the final line.  After his empathetic comparisons of Jews and Christians, Shylock states that if a Jew wrongs a Christian the result is revenge. He then states:                  

“The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

Hardly a conciliatory ending to his appeal for equality. He follows the threat with his insistence on getting his “pound of flesh” because Antonio cannot repay the 3,000 ducats, both terms which were agreed to in the loan documents.

He gets some sympathy all right, but then twists it into the threat. At this point we might note that other Elizabethan authors and playwrights fashioned Jewish villains that make Shylock almost a lovable pussy cat. Christopher Marlowe’s Barabbas in “The Jew of Malta,” is a prime example, along with Thomas Dekker‘s “The Jew of Venice.”

In other Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Jewish money lenders “enjoy” such names as Gripe, Hornet, Bloodhound, Lucre, Moth, Perfidious Oldcraft, and Sir Tyrant Thrift. Those names make the characters hardly seem like people we would want to invite to dinner or go with to a ball game.

Earlier writings such as Chaucer’s “The Prioress Tale,” established the horrible stereotype, and Dickens continued it centuries later with his Fagin in “Oliver Twist.” 

Shakespeare based the play on an Italian play called “Il Pecorone” (“The Simpleton“) in which the evil money lender has no name. Gianneta, the merchant, has only about 2000 words, and the equivalent of Portia has her suitors not simply give her gifts to woo her to marriage, but they must sleep with her and if they do not please and satisfy her, they must forfeit their own fortunes and property. (Sorry, but no English version of “Il Pecorone” exists, at least not as of a few years ago when I did the research.)

Shylock is a stinker, no question, but banning him and the play poses the threat of a word I personally despise: censorship.  If we can censor a work because it offers a horrible example of a Jew, what is to prevent someone else from censoring another work because it offers too pleasant a picture of a Jew? Once that Pandora’s box has been opened, how do we close it?  We all know the answer to that question: it stays open.

The plays of August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as  countless others, might be censored by some as being too human a picture of African-Americans. How about a thoughtful and sometimes gentle Asian absolute monarch?  Goodbye “The King and I.” Will we also “banish” Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which gives an unnecessarily evil portrait of Richard, because the grandfather of Elizabeth I, Henry VII, killed Richard and usurped his throne?

Under no circumstances do we need clergy, lay people, government officials or anyone else deciding what adults can write, present, or read because once that snowball starts rolling downhill, it is not long before it becomes an avalanche. We need to remember the lessons taught to us in the 20th Century by people named Hitler and Stalin, not to mention our own American/un-American H. U. A. C.

In my totally fictional novel, By Any Other Name, I have an imaginary discussion between Christopher Marlow and the man who, in the novel, writes the plays attributed to Shakespeare. They discuss the images of Shylock and Barabbas. Marlowe, whose Jew was even more vile than Shylock, insists that the primary decision of depth of evil lies with the audience for whom the work was written. There can be no question that the Elizabethan or Jacobean audiences were vastly different from those of 21st Century America. Audience members in the 16th and early 17th Century had probably never even seen a Jew; Edward II banished all Jews from England in 1292.  It was not until the middle of the 1600s that some were allowed into England.

Will some go away from a production of “The Merchant” thinking and even saying aloud, “Yep, all the Jews are like that.”  Hopefully others will realize that it is a play written over four centuries ago and not a true reflection of life as we know it or a depiction of an entire culture.  It is a play; a work of art, not sociology.

Shakespeare himself had a narrow “religious” line to walk.  He came from a devout, involved Catholic family at a time when England still smarted from Henry VIII’s abandoning the Catholic Church and establishing the Anglican Church.  He dared not enter the conflicted world of religious strife in England within his plays. Jews made excellent villains, and the theater needs villains in order to contrast with the heroes.

Finally, I patently reject the suggestion to have panel discussions after the final curtain of “Merchant” or any other play, as the author of the article posited.  As Willy himself once said, The play’s the thing.”  We hope that audiences will find food for thought after “Merchant,” or any other play or novel. The play must, however, in the final analysis stand on its own as a work of art.

Because it is April, let’s all wish the Bard a happy birthday and commemorate the 453rd anniversary of his birth.  Not too many people still make us think, as well as entertain us, even after four centuries.

 HAPPY 453rd

           

           

 

It’s a Dog’s Life

I recently saw the movie, A Dog’s Purpose. It follows a dog as he is reincarnated as different breeds belonging to various owners. Over the course of several lifetimes, the dog’s existence intersects with that of a young boy who rescued him in 1962. Yes, it did make me cry, but that’s not the point. The thought of dog reincarnation got me to thinking. What if a human was reincarnated as a dog? Could we live the life and be content? Given the dogs I know, I’m pretty sure a dog’s life would be just fine by me.

We are a two dog household. Trudy is a 13 year old Terrier mix and Molly, soon to be five, is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. For those of you unfamiliar with dogs, they are a carnivorous domesticated mammal, also known as a canine, pooch, hound, or mutt. Trudy spends most of her time napping and Molly, being more active, spends her days running around the back yard barking at birds, the wind, squirrels, undetectable sounds or the subtle shift of the earth’s axis. She eats everything she encounters (i.e.; dried animal poop, dead lizards and discarded Kleenex), in addition to some gross stuff. In Dogville, life is pretty much a revolving cycle of eat, drink, lick, poop, sleep, repeat. That is the life.

The closest resemblance to a dog’s life that we humans can relate to is probably that of a rock star. I bet Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Pit Bull (see what I did there?) all spend their days much like Molly when they’re not in the studio or on the road touring.

If I was reincarnated as a dog, I could scratch myself, clean myself, pee and poop wherever I wanted, drink from the toilet, sniff human crotches, sniff my friend’s behinds (it’s like shaking hands), bark/howl/growl until my throat hurt and sleep, sleep, sleep. Did I also mention that dogs don’t get married? That’s right, they “hook-up.” I don’t judge them. In fact, I appreciate their animalistic approach to relationships. They take care of their primal instinct/physical urges and yet don’t feel the need to comply with the institution of marriage.

That’s not to say that if I were a dog I would forgo my fatherly duties. I would undoubtedly want to be there for the delivery of my litter and would stick around to help raise my pups, but that whole marriage thing just isn’t part of dog’s life. In this dog fantasy world, I would have a neighborhood full of female “dog friends with benefits.” That is until my owners took the responsible action of having me neutered. Oh, the shame. Come to think of it, once that happened, I would probably settle down with a nice Collie.

If I was a dog, I would like to be a German shepherd. Not because I’m of German decent. If human heritage was the determining factor in breed, I would be an Irish Setter/English Bulldog half-breed. German Shepherds are by nature, protective, strong, brave and intelligent. All of those qualities are admirable if you’re describing a dog or fraternity brother. Growing up, my family had a pure white German shepherd we named Snowy. I have so many good memories of times spent with that dog. Summer sleep outs in the back yard, playing fetch (him not me) at the park and long walks where we would talk about girls, baseball and girls. Snowy was deep, yet simplistic. He assessed everything he came into contact with as Friend, Foe or Food. I try and do the same in my line of work as a writer. Food is pretty easy to identify, however friend or foe can be tricky sometimes.

History is filled with famous dogs in every form of art, athletics and literature. The painting of dogs playing poker is a masterpiece. While dog fighting makes me sick, dog racing has been around since early Egyptian times. Racing the incredibly fast and agile Greyhounds is immensely popular while watching dachshunds (aka wiener dogs) is just delightfully amusing. Since 1974, there have been 62 movies, grossing over $2 billion dollars, with a dog as the central character. Dog actors, such as Lassie, Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin, Toto, Benji, Air Bud and the Shaggy D.A. haven’t won any Academy Award (yet), but they have made significant contributions to some wonderful movies.

There have been dogs on television going back 50 years, starting with Pete, Spanky’s Pit Bull on the Little Rascals, Tiger, a sheep dog who lived with the Brady Bunch, Buck, also a sheep dog who housed with the Bundy’s on Married with Children and finally Eddie, the cute little Jack Russell terrier on Frasier. Many of us can all recall commercial pitch dogs like Loren Green’s dog, Duke, chasing sticks for Alpo as well as The Taco Bell Chihuahua and Budweiser’s Spuds Mackenzie. There are also the always entertaining comic strip and cartoon dogs including Marmaduke, Scooby Doo, Under Dog, Lady and the Tramp, Clifford – The Big Red Dog, Bolt and, of course, Snoopy.

Finally, in literature, who could forget Shiloh, White Fang or Cujo?  However, to truly understand dogs, take the time to read the beautifully crafted book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. The story is told in the words/thoughts of Enzo, a Golden Retriever. If you ever wondered what a dog was thinking, this book provides you with an enlightening notion.

I’m not saying everything about a dog’s life is ideal. Dogs can’t get a job, pay bills, drive carpool, vote, invest for retirement, clean the house, “Tweet”, shop, mow the lawn or dance. Who am I kidding?  I don’t like to do any of those things. Dogs don’t need materialistic possessions or stressful responsibilities. Sure, they might bark from time to time, but that’s just to be heard and acknowledged. Similar to when I raise my voice (aka bark).

Given the possibility of reincarnation, maybe I should request to be a dog in my next life. Years from now, hopefully many years from now, I could see myself as a happy little mutt living with a nice family in the suburbs. My name might be Buddy or Champ and I’ll wag my tail, sit and even learn how to shake my paw. If someone will occasionally throw me a Frisbee and rub my belly this dog’s life would be good.

Sidebar: If you’re considering adding a dog to your family, visiting the local area animal shelters in hopes of finding a compatible canine is actually quite enjoyable. We found Trudy at the SPCA in Dublin. The SPCA has a beautiful facility, qualified staff, educational classes and a very nice collection of mature adult dogs. Our area also supports other organizations such as ARF and East Bay Animal Shelter. Adopted dogs are wonderful in large part due to their appreciative attitude having been given a second lease (or leash) on life. I suppose knowing that if you aren’t adopted you may be chasing Frisbees in Heaven makes rescue dogs inherently grateful.

 

The Three Bs

The famous three Bs of the music world are, undisputedly, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Each of these unforgettable men were foremost in their respective periods of music history.

Baroque Period (1600-1750)

Near the end of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporary, Georg Frideric Handel, were bringing this period to a climatic, glorious conclusion. During this era the emphasis was on contrast and harmony rather than on polyphony—where two or more melodic lines are combined. This period saw a dynamic and expressive style that dominated music and art. Music during this era was characterized by its emotional appeal and by the energy and fluidness of its form. It had ornamented melodies, striking use of harmonics and strong rhythms.

The concerto form of music brought the stylistic contrast between the solo or small group against the larger group. After a period of predominately vocal music, instrumental music gained more attention by composers and new forms of writing for instruments became the norm.

Vocal music was mostly religious in content but secular music was gaining popularity. The music, written primarily for the church, was now for the princely courts of the aristocrats and then eventually for the general public. This was a huge change of practice and philosophy.

The chief vocal forms of the Baroque era are, opera, cantata and Oratorio. The instrumental forms were: fugue; toccata; overture; dance suite and theme and variations.

Johann Sabastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach is the first “B” of these three great composers. Usually composers can be referred to by their last name, but not in this case. He came from a long line of musicians and his sons were also composers of note. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany and lost his parents at the age of ten. He was raised by an older brother who was his first music instructor.

Considered a conservative, Bach was Lutheran and an intensely religious composer. After three years at the gymnasium (high school) in Luneburg, in Hanover, Germany, he began his professional life as a musician. Bach was an expert performer on organ and clavier (various keyboard instruments) and also the violin.

Bach was in the Ducal orchestra in Weimar and in the same year, 1703, he was organist in Arnstadt. During this time he married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he entered the service of the Thuringian courts. His job as a court musician in this period, was an employee who performed and created music upon request.

Bach held various posts as organist and chamber musician. In 1723 he settled in Leipzig as the director of music at Saint Thomas church and school; where he was in charge of choir boys and taught Latin. He married twice, as his first wife died in 1720. His new wife was Anna Magdalena Wicke, whom he married in 1721. Bach fathered 20 children between both wives, however, only nine survived to adulthood.

Bach became a master of polyphonic music, exemplified by his cannons and fugues; chorale cantata; the passions; masses; suites; concerto grosso and toccata. He was at the peak of the German baroque era. His religious music was nothing short of monumental. He excelled in the concerto grosso in the six Brandenburg Concerti. With the exception of opera,  all the other aspects of 17th and 18th Century musical idioms were brilliantly composed by Bach. His music was considered so superior it over shadowed the works of his contemporaries.

 Classic Period (1750-1827)

 This period of music is from the death of Bach to the death of Beethoven. This era saw the gradual decline of the social and political dominance of the court and the emergence of the middle class. Both the American and French Revolutions were fought during this period.

 The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ championed the ideas of J.J. Rousseau, who advocated a return to nature and proclaimed the rights of the common man. Music, at last, was made available to many different levels of society. The tumultuous climax of the baroque period was punctuated by the genius of both Bach and Handel. A new and vibrant era was just beginning with the advent of new composers. Vienna became the center of music in Western Europe during this period.

 Although the old style was still present alongside the new, interest in new forms and styles were taking hold, especially in the advancement of instrumental and secular music; replacing much of the religious music of the past. Music evolved from polyphony or polyphonic music to homophony or homophonic, meaning one voice or part with accompanying chords. Music took on a more simple style based on melody and harmonic structure, replacing the complexity of the Baroque counterpoint and polyphonic writing. The long arched melody of the late Baroque was replaced by short two and four measure phrases.

 Big changes occurred in instrumental music with the emergence of virtuoso writing for some instruments. Clarinets were added to the orchestra. The woodwind section was now complete, as were the strings, but the brass section was incomplete.

 The musical forms of the classic period became the foundation for much of the music of the 19th Century and beyond. The three phenomenal composers of this period were Haydn, (1732-1809) and Mozart, (1756-1791) who paved the way for our second “B,” Beethoven.

 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Beethoven was born in the Rhine town of Bonn, Germany. The Van in his name perhaps connotes some Flemish ancestry. His father, Johann Van Beethoven, was a tenor in the chapel choir of the Elector of Bonn.

 The musical talents of the young Beethoven were recognized by his father and he saw in Ludwig another boy wonder, like Mozart. His father was not a nice man and could see financial gain by exploiting his son. Young Beethoven was made to practice an inordinate length of time, to the detriment of his general education. He was abused and treated unkindly, thus he felt isolated and excluded from other worldly endeavors.

In 1787 his father took Ludwig to Vienna to play before Mozart. He had to return to Bonn because of his mother’s poor health. Beethoven did not return to Vienna until 1792, just after Mozart’s death.

Ludwig studied composition with Haydn; unfortunately the two men had temperamental problems and never hit it off. Beethoven completed his first of nine symphonies, in 1800. He became Vienna’s first successful free-lance composer and musician. Beethoven, unlike others, never held a court position after leaving Bonn.

Probably one of the worst things that can happen to a musician is deafness. In 1798, Beethoven began to experience ringing and humming in his ears. In 1802, in a fit of desperation he contemplated suicide, as his entire being was tormented and full of anguish. But even so, his musical output, over the next ten years, was nothing short of remarkable. By 1812, he completed symphonies two through eight; piano concertos; violin concerto and his opera, Fidelio, among other works. This output was extraordinary for a deaf composer and foretold some of the techniques of the future Romantic era.         

Beethoven broadened the range of personal emotional expression with his music. He was a master of form and expanded and developed the existing musical structures. A few of his last great works were:  The last piano sonatas; the Missa Solemnis and the monumental, Ninth Symphony, where he introduced choral parts in a symphony for the first time. His last works set the stage for the 19th Century and the Romantic period.

Romantic Period    

This period spanned roughly the entire 19th Century into the early 20th Century. Music differed from its predecessors of the Classic Period. It was more emotional and personal with a subjective or freer style. It went beyond traditional forms of structure and balance. The creation of new forms was prevalent and explored by many composers. Emphasis was placed on the ideal, the individual and the heroic,  as exemplified in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (No. 3). There was a progressive spirit abounding among composers during this period.

The roots of the Romantic Period began in the late 18th Century, with Rousseau and others rebelling against the classic traditions; they wanted a return to simplicity and nature; with more emphasis on human instincts and feelings than on intellectual pursuits. The Romantics favored emotion over reason. They advocated free expression over the previous concept of restraint. This was a reaction to the aristocratic courts and was in favor of the middle class.

Program music came to the forefront during this period. This is instrumental music that relates a story or tale and often has descriptive titles. An excellent example of program music is the Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.  

The range and power of the piano increased. Also many new forms of music are created; piano pieces; art songs; programmatic forms; romantic opera; tone poems and others. Improvements to wind instruments are prevalent and valves are added to French horns and trumpets. English horns, bass clarinets, tubas and harps are now accepted in the orchestra.

This was a ‘Golden Age’ for composers, as far as public acceptance and artistic freedom was concerned. Composers of this era are:  Carl Maria Von Weber; Franz Schubert; Hector Berlioz; Felix Mendelssohn; Robert Schumann; Frederic Chopin; Franz Liszt; Richard Wagner; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and many others.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The third “B” was born in Hamburg, Germany, the son of a string bass player in the town orchestra. His father instructed him on violin, cello and French horn. At the age of seven he studied piano and became very proficient at the keyboard.

Brahms’ study of music theory emphasized the music of Bach and Beethoven. Up to the age of 20 he remained in Hamburg leading an unremarkable life. Brahms had a reputation as a pianist and a conductor. In 1862, he went to Vienna and conducted choruses. Around 1864, he devoted his energies to full-time composing.

Brahms was a devoted follower of Beethoven with regard to symphonies, concerti and chamber music. However, he used a newer harmonic vocabulary than Beethoven. One of the most famous and endearing works of Brahms is, the Ein Deutsches Requiem, (A German Requiem) of 1857-58. The requiem mass is a mass for the dead. Brahms’ requiem does not use the Latin text and therefore is not technically a church mass. It was written in commemoration of this mother’s death. Biblical references are used as the basis of the text. The original text is in German and was later translated into other languages.

Paramount among Brahms’ instrumental music are the four symphonies. Hans Von Bulow, the famous conductor and pianist, after hearing Brahms First Symphony and recalling Beethoven’s nine symphonies, called it Beethoven’s 10th!

In 1879 the University Breslau conferred on Brahms a doctor’s degree. As the diploma said “The foremost living German Master of the art of composition.” In appreciation for this honor he composed the Academic Festival Overture.

Brahms was a perfectionist and would make many tries before he would accept an idea as finished. He did not primarily use poems, stories or programs in his music, like many of his contemporaries. Brahms believed “Music for Music’s sake.”

Brahms never married, however, he was in love with Clara Schumann, widow of composer, Robert Schumann. The Schumann’s were probably the greatest single influence in Brahms life.

There you have it—a thumbnail sketch of three of the greatest musical geniuses that ever lived. How ironic that they were all German, and all pacesetters in their respective eras. They wrote some of the world’s greatest and memorable music that is still very popular today. What a gift to mankind these incredible composers left.

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.