Singing of Brahms’ (1833–1897) Lieder has always given me a very different feeling from that of Schubert’s (1797–1828). Both are important song writers of the Romantic period.
In my recent book on romanticism in Schubert’s Lieder (published in Chinese only), I attributed the root of romanticism to Kant’s (1724–1804) idea of “feeling of the sublime” when one finds himself before something which he cannot place under human reason in whatsoever way. This feeling of the sublime is not because there is a lack of reason or frame of reference under which one can talk about or think in terms of for the object, but the object, in front of him, simply cannot be reasoned because it is formless. Examples of formless “objects” are wonders of nature, catastrophes, depth of night, death, demons, etc. Kant called the feeling of the sublime an “intellectual feeling”. Man has it because he, by nature, is rational, i.e. relates to the world around him only under reasons. Here, for the rational being, he feels amazed, fearful, unsettled and speechless. It is not the fact that the object cannot be comprehended, but the object’s incomprehensibility that has alarmed him.
The feeling of the sublime was first captured in the western culture in works of art: the romantic paintings at the end of the 18th to first half of the 19th century. Then when this situation of a very strong feeling of something which one cannot comprehend got into the hands of the imaginative literates, romanticism took on a new footing: the bitter and forbidden love. The love is forbidden because reason does not allow it so. It is bitter because it is one’s own reason that has stopped him from loving.
The German poet and philosopher Schiller (1759–1805), in his book On Grace and Dignity (1793), suggested that there can indeed be peace in suffering (pathos): even when one suffers, his can feel graceful and dignified. And it is much more romantic if one loves sincerely but shyly, passionately but in secret, bitterly but in silence, in acceptance of failure yet forever hopeful. Here, shy, secret or silence only means there is no intention in the person, no matter how desperate he feels, to change the situation. It is not hope that has kept the person composed, but that his suffering is so great and yet he has succeeded to sublimate it to feel graceful and dignified, the most romantic feeling of all: peace in suffering.
If the youth in Schubert’s love songs loves shyly and in naivety, the protagonist in Brahms’ loves passionately but in secret. But one can only understand the meaning of this secrecy in the context of Brahms’ personality.
Brahms called himself “free but alone” (a motto that he borrowed from his life-long friend Joseph Joachim). He was known to be extremely reticent. He was reluctant to talk about himself and to reveal his feelings. He wrote better than he talked. However, people do get to know his inner world from his large amount of personal letters, diaries and memoirs. He was said to be a sociable person, but only among friends that fit his own passion. He loved his family and friends and yet was insensitive to the worries and pains of others. He himself has admitted to Clara Schumann that “towards friends I am aware of only one failing: awkwardness in relating.”
Brahms was attracted to sensitive and intelligent women, but he loved freedom too much to have wanted to commit to any relationship. The price he had to pay was his solitude. His Lieder Kein Haus, keine Heimat (No Hause, no Homeland) (Op.94/5), text by Friedrich Halm, perhaps, best describes his mentality in this. “No house and no homeland, No wife and no child, I whirl like a straw in the wind and the wild! Wave rising, wave falling, Now here and now there, If you care not for me, world, Why, then, should I care?”
Brahms’ music is known for its exceptional intensity and depth of feeling. His Lieder tells better his inner world if this cannot be expressed by him in speech. He resolved his solitude via the passionate words in his songs. The singing of Brahms songs requires a warm voice. As a song writer, he is a melody writer. Singing his songs gives one great musical and emotional satisfaction.
如果舒伯特曲中的少年愛得單純，布拉姆斯曲中的主角便是愛得熱情如火。但愛雖是真，卻志不在擁有。布氏經常借用其好友 Joseph Joachim 的座佑銘 “free but alone” 來形容自己。他寡言少語，不願表達自己，更不願向別人訴說感受。不過，後人不難從他大量的私人信件、日誌、回憶錄中得知其內心世界。他熱愛家人、朋友，和他喜歡的朋友交往，談笑風生，但對不喜歡的人和事，態度會變得毫不客氣。他亦直認與人相處不是他的強項。