Brahms & Democracy
In November of 1876, one hundred and forty years ago, Johannes Brahms’ monumental First Symphony was first heard, performed in Karlsruhe, Germany. The much anticipated work – which took Brahms over 20 years to complete – has become part of the cannon of Western music. Ironically, the premier of The Ring by Brahms’ supposed rival and fellow musical genius, Richard Wagner, was performed for the first time in the same year.
While one critic initially called Brahms’ First Symphony “Beethoven’s Tenth,” it has surpassed that unjust description and now stands on its own merit as a distinct masterpiece. The First Symphony, the three that followed, and the rest of Brahms’ works makes him more than Beethoven’s successor, a unique musical figure in his own right.
In one of his best newspaper articles, H.L. Mencken wrote the following about a Brahms’ performance:
My excuse for writing of the above gentleman is simply
that I can think of nothing else. A week or so ago, . . . I
heard his sextet for strings, opus 18, and ever since then it
has been sliding and pirouetting through my head. I have
gone to bed with it and I have got up with it. Not, of course,
with the whole sextet, nor even with any principal tune of it,
but with the modest and fragile little episode at the end of
the first section of the first movement – a lowly thing of eight
measures, thrown off like a perfume, so to speak, from the
The Sage of Baltimore continued on what made Brahms so special:
In music, as in all the other arts, the dignity of the work is simply
a reflection of the dignity of the man. The notion that shallow
and trivial men can write great masterpieces is one of the follies
that flow out of the common human taste for scandalous
anecdote. . . . More than any other art, perhaps, music demands
brains. It is full of technical complexities. It calls for a capacity to
do a dozen things at once. But most of all it is revelatory of what
is called character. When a trashy man writes it, it is trashy music.
Here is where the immense superiority of such a man as
Brahms becomes manifest. There is less trashiness in his music
than there is in the music of any other man ever heard of, with
the sole exception, perhaps of Johann Sebastian Bach. . . .
Hearing Brahms, one never gets any sense of being entertained
by a clever mountebank. One is facing a superior man, and the
fact is evident from the first note.
While Brahms was born in Hamburg, he eventually found his way to the musical capital of the world, Vienna, which, at the time, was part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. Vienna was more than the musical center of Europe, but a cultural one as well which was rivaled by few in Brahms’ time.
Although mostly forgotten under an avalanche of pro-democracy historiography, the Vienna where Brahms spent most of his adult life was “ruled” by a monarch. The rich cultural life which flourished in that political atmosphere was admitted even by those who were, no doubt, hostile and envious of it as the philosopher and economist, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, describes in his seminal book, Democracy: The God That Failed:
Even democratic intellectuals and artists from any field of
intellectual and cultural endeavor could not ignore the
enormous level of productivity of Austro-Hungarian and in
particular Viennese culture. Indeed, the list of great names
associated with late nineteenth and early twentieth century
Vienna is seemingly endless.**
As Professor Hoppe insightfully shows, the incredible accomplishments of the likes of Brahms came in the pre-democratic era which tragically ended with WWI.
. . . rarely has this enormous intellectual and cultural
productivity been brought in a systematic connection with
the pre-democratic tradition of the Habsburg monarchy.
Instead, if it has not been considered a mere coincidence, the
productivity of Austrian-Viennese culture has been presented
‘politically correctly’ as proof of the positive synergistic effects
of a multiethnic society and of multiculturalism.
Whether the accomplishments were in the arts, music, scientific breakthrough, invention, or entrepreneurial wealth creation, all were the result of individual initiative, skill, tenacity, foresight and intelligence within a society that recognized, praised, and promoted such achievements. There was no affirmative action or policies that promoted artists based on their skin color or gender. When Brahms came to Vienna, he did not receive an Austro-Hungarian version of a National Endowment of Arts subsidy!
Just as important, and what is ignored by the Left and many race-denying realists on the respectable Right, is that all of these civilization-enhancing accomplishments in Vienna were made, for the most part, by white heterosexual men. No other culture or people have ever produced music comparable to Brahms and his fellow Western musical masters.
The democratic age which followed has been praised by scholars as an advancement of the human condition on all fronts. In his book and in other places, however, Professor Hoppe has shown that just the opposite has occurred under democratic conditions with a trend toward de-civilization. Taking the US as an example, he writes:
. . . less than a century of full-blown democracy has resulted in
steadily increasing moral degeneration, family and social
disintegration, and cultural decay in the form of continually rising
rates of divorce, illegitimacy, abortion, and crime. As a result
of an ever-expanding list of nondiscrimination –
‘affirmative action’ – laws and nondiscriminatory, multicultural ,
egalitarian immigration policies, every nook and cranny of American
society is affected by government management and forced integration;
accordingly, social strife and racial, ethnic, and moral –cultural
tension and hostility have increased dramatically.
As Professor Hoppe notes, the latest phase in the democratic era has been immigration policies which have been deliberately planned to destroy the various Western cultures with Germany being the most devastated. Yet, as Mencken wrote of him, Brahms was a product of Germanic blood not that of multiculturalism. The German people who continue to support and allow those to wantonly destroy the culture that produced a Brahms should consult Mencken:
I give you his Deutsches Requiem as an example. . . . The thing is
irresistibly moving. It is moving because a man of the highest
intellectual dignity, a man of exalted feelings, a man of brains,
put into it his love and pride in his country. That country is
lucky which produces such men.
While Brahms’ music will always be listened to and played for its brilliance, it should always be remembered in what culture his genius was allowed to flourish. How fortunate for mankind that Brahms lived in the pre-democratic era and what a loss it would have been if the First Symphony would have never been composed.
*Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, ed. The Impossible H.L. Mencken: A Selection of His Best Newspaper Stories. With a Foreword by Gore Vidal. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1991, pp. 465-468.
**Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order. New Brunswick (U.S.A.): Transaction Publishers, 2001, pp. xii-xiii.
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