“Who Is Musical?’ – not perhaps the most eye-catching title for a book, but this is indeed the title of a book by Brahms’s close friend Theodor Billroth, who Brahms dedicated his Op 51 string quartets to. Billroth was working on the text of this first ever scientific study of the nature of musicality late in his life and it was published posthumously.
A highly regarded and innovative Viennese surgeon, he was also a very good musician. I find it moving playing the viola part of the Brahms quartet knowing that he would have played this very part and that to some extent Brahms would have had his friend in mind in his musical imagination.
Billroth stated that “it is one of the superficialities of our time to see in science and art two opposites. Imagination is the mother of both.”
Max Klinger. Brahmsphantasie: Accord 1894
Brahms was a great enthusiast of the art of Max Klinger – and Klinger was equally enthusiastic about Brahms’s music. They were without doubt artistic soul mates, in touch with their subconscious and finding ways to express their imagination.
Brahms felt that writing his music was about realising what he heard in his dreams, the sphere of imagination. Perhaps with science so pivotal and revered today, and with the arts being existentially challenged, the friendship of Brahms, Klinger and Billroth can show us the importance of imagination. Against all odds, we can still dream.