Friday, 22 February 2013

Make your thoughts luminous

When asked why he had decided to arrange Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ String Quartet for the larger forces of a full string orchestra the great composer Mahler replied that he had wished to ‘give the music wings’.

The original quartet is a masterwork suited to the intimate environment of a private salon or a small informal gathering of friends. Mahler’s sensitive arrangement for string orchestra magnifies the music’s essential genius by just the right amount, enabling it to sound out clearly within the far larger setting of an orchestral concert hall.

Specifically, Mahler succeeds in adding to the already rich inspiration of Schubert’s original by pinpointing intense but fleeting moments of implied feeling and then releasing just enough of their previously untapped emotional energy to enable them to shimmer and shine more brightly.

Sometimes our thoughts and ideas need to be enriched and made more luminous in our minds. We can then begin to see and appreciate any previously unclear aspects. This enables us to develop our ideas that much more confidently: strengthening weak but potentially positive strands of thought and minimising or eliminating the negative consequences of previously unforeseen problems.

The next time you want to fully appreciate an idea enhance its luminosity. Ask yourself the following questions:

·       How can you make the key details and potentials of your idea stand out brilliantly in people’s minds?

·       How can you pinpoint and develop those aspects of your idea that are merely implied but could prove central to its success?

·       How can you best communicate the significance of your idea to those that are furthest away from you in terms of their understanding and attitude?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Grow into understanding

For the first fifty years of my life I did not warm to the music of Brahms. But then, whilst listening to his 4th Symphony as I travelled home by train one winter’s night, this all changed.

For several weeks previously I had been reading about the life of Brahms. At the time of composing his 4th Symphony he was about to enter the last decade or so of his life. His long and deeply felt friendship with the widow of Robert Schumann, Clara, had not developed into anything more and his drive and passion had become increasingly focused upon realising the potential of his music. His drive to compose was so strong that when he eventually ‘retired from composition’ at the age of 57 he was unable to keep to it, writing several acknowledged masterworks during his final years.

Overall, the impression I was gaining of Brahms was of a man of great passion, integrity and resolve.

As I listened to his 4th Symphony my newly acquired knowledge of Brahms’s life intertwined with his music and for the first time in my life I ‘got it’. I could hear the heart felt resolve and integrity of the man in his music, and also something of the disappointments that he had overcome. Indeed, these disappointments were the wellspring of the symphony’s emotional intensity.

In the past I had perceived Brahms as too tightly buttoned up by classical structures and forms to be truly expressive and emotional. Now, however, I understood that he used the structures not just for aesthetic reasons but also because they enabled him to articulate his emotions in a clear, focused and controlled way. I finally put the character of the man beside his music and it all made immediate sense. I became instantly aware of the emotional intensity he had packed so skilfully and carefully into his compositions.

Sometimes we cannot take a convenient short cut towards understanding something. Now and then we simply need to allow ourselves the time and space for our understanding to grow, as it finally did for me and my appreciation of Brahms's symphony.