Context isn't everything

...but then again, it sure helps sometimes.

Huw Williams | 21:41, Wednesday 07 November 2012 | Turin, Italy

I've been listening to a lot of Brahms recently, especially his symphonies. These four pieces are masterpieces of nineteenth century Romanticism, and form a central part of any self-respecting orchestra's repertoire (not to mention any self-respecting music-lover's music collection).

I've been blown away yet again by just how different performances of the same music can sound. Under the differing batons of great conductors, the same symphonies can sound joyfully life-affirming (Walter), intellectually brilliant (Kleiber), structurally imposing (Karajan) and darkly Autumnal (Rattle). It is a confirmation of great art.

But I haven't always been so captivated by the music of Brahms. It took a while to get under my skin. What made the difference? Well a few things I guess, but not least listening to the music of Brahms’ contemporaries. You can hear some very fine symphonic offerings from some of these contemporaries, many of which deserve a wider audience. But then when you return to Brahms, you see just how brilliant this music is, in short, just how much better he was than everyone else. For me here, context is everything. I suppose that that’s not a surprising statement from someone of my generation, whose formative years were nestled somewhere in the gap between Generation X and Y.

And then somewhere around the two thirds mark of the journey, you meet someone who stands out from the crowd.

And the same approach has impressed itself on me as I've been reading through my Bible recently. As you read from Genesis to Revelation, you meet so many people along the way. Some impressive, some not so much.  And then somewhere around the two thirds mark of the journey, you meet someone who stands out from the crowd. You don't have to have read from Genesis for him to impress himself upon you of course, he would do that anyway, but when you have walked the story for the beginning there’s something about seeing Jesus in the context of Scripture that is overwhelming. In short you see how brilliantly he shines, how much better he is than everyone else, his perfection is set against the dark backdrop of tragic imperfection.

Context isn't everything, but it is certainly illuminating.


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