More on Schumann's madness and marriage, though they don't mention the part where the young Brahms was Schumann's apprentice, staying in their house and hopelessly in love with Clara Schumann. This unrequited passion is all over his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, which is loud and dissonant and completely unapologetic about it. This was in the immediate post-Beethoven era, when all the young composers were still in Ludwig's shadow and assumed that you had to shake your fist at heaven when you wrote a symphony: that's what the form was for. It's overdramatic, sure, but at the same time I can't condone what Hermann Hesse does to Brahms near the end of Steppenwolf:
I looked over the edge of the box into the immeasurable depths of space. Mist and clouds floated there. Mountains and seashores glimmered, and beneath us extended world-wide a desert plain. On this plain we saw an old gentleman of worthy aspect, with a long beard, who drearily led a large following of some ten thousand men in black. He had a melancholy and hopeless air; and Mozart said:
"Look, there's Brahms. He is striving for redemption, but it will take him all his time."
I realized that the thousands of men in black were the players of all those notes and parts in his scores which according to divine judgment were superfluous.
"Too thickly orchestrated, too much material wasted," Mozart said with a nod.
Hesse saw Mozart's icy perfection as an intimation of the immortals, but it's always been a shade off-putting for me. His forms are so exactly constructed that sometimes it seems the music barely has room to breathe. There's something to be said for the aesthetic of excess, for burdening the form with more than it can soundly bear just for the thrill of going too far. If, as commonly asserted, it's true that Mozart never wrote a bad piece, that might end up to be his greatest failing.