When you’re new to classical music, it’s like hearing a foreign language you’ve just learned. You pick up key words and phrases. You get the overall message. The more you hear, the more you understand. That is a worthy achievement, and satisfying. Appreciating the beauty of the sound is an admirable goal. But some may want to dig deeper, to understand subtle nuances of phrasing, be they linguistic or musical.
So how do you learn these things? By continued listening over time, or by having someone point out to you what you might be missing.
I have found a wonderful resource that will help you discover these details in the work of Johannes Brahms.
Musicologist Kelly Dean Hansen has prepared detailed listening guides for many of Brahms’s compositions (nearly complete coverage from Op. 1 to Op 122!). Hansen includes time stamps tied to specific performances so you can select exact points to listen to, and also provides links to access the scores.
That in itself is huge. The list of works is extensive, and minute detail is presented.
But wait, there’s more.
Hansen has prepared a Spotify Brahms playlist that includes the specific performances used in the analysis.
So, you get a helping hand in discovering the genius of Brahms, a way to access the scores to follow along, and (with a free/paid Spotify account) a way to access to the recordings cited in the listening guides.
That is a lot of detail to take in. If it seems a little overwhelming, remember, you can always enjoy the playlist full of great performances on its own.
If you want to use the listening guides, I would suggest reading the guide for a particular piece, perhaps printing it out and marking particular points you might want to listen for. Then listen.
Then listen again, this time with only your ears, without words or scores.
Brahms never sounded so good.
Thank you, Dr. Hansen!
Image attribution: Johannes Brahms, photograph By C. Brasch, Berlin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JohannesBrahms.jpg