Theory Dreams

Last night the American Symphony Orchestra played Brahms’s First Piano Concerto here at Bard, with Blanca Uribe as soloist. As you may know, the work starts off with an aggressive drone on D, above which the theme enters on a surprising B-flat major triad. Much later in the 22-minute first movement, in the recapitulation, the orchestra lands dramatically on that D drone again, only this time, the soloist slaps down the theme on an E major triad, a tritone away from the opening statement and thus the biggest harmonic shock possible; the D drone is the third of the B-flat chord but the seventh of an E dominant, so instead of the expected VI6 you get V2/V, as radical a reinterpretation as Brahms could have managed within his musical language, and a seeming brazen coup for the pianist. I had written the program notes and drew attention to this demonically brilliant moment, which may be my favorite in Brahms’s entire output.

This morning I dreamed about those B-flat and E entries as standing at opposite ends of human experience and encompassing all thought between them. The B-flat was feminine, the E masculine, one was radical and the other conservative, et cetera, a symbol for a whole philosophical system. And the dream went on for seeming hours, as I traveled through ancient and exotic lands, relating everything I came across back to some point in the spectrum defined by B-flat versus E in relation to some eternal grounding on D.

As you’ve guessed before, it’s pretty weird being me.