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When Johannes Brahms composed his Third Symphony in 1883, he was 50 years old, had achieved stardom and his motto was Free but Happy: in German, Frei Aber Froth, whose initials are F A F. Translated into musical notes, according to international convention, they correspond to Fa La Fa. And this is precisely the musical motto that opens the Third Symphony and pervades it at all levels, from beginning to end: the only variation is that the A is lowered to A flat, which sounds more reflective and typical of maturity, and suggests an F minor chord (F, A flat). But the overall tonality is F major (i.e. F, A) and this discrepancy results in a continuous struggle between major and minor.

There is a video analysis on YouTube that explains this in detail.

This is just one of the countless examples that could be given of how the ‘theme’, the ‘melody’ that characterises a song, doesn’t really need any particular inspiration to be generated. The theme can come from any source, and it all depends on what you do with it. This is something every musician knows well, even if it contrasts with our stereotype of the brilliant idea, the creative spark that generates a whole work of art. And perhaps it can be said that inspiration as such is an overrated concept.

In a letter written to his sister during a stay in Milan on 24 August 1771, Mozart recounted finding himself in a flat surrounded by other musicians: ‘Above us is a violinist, below us is another, next to us a singing teacher giving lessons, and in the last room opposite ours, an oboist: it’s fun to compose, you get lots of ideas’. Inspiration also comes from cacophony.

There is a documentary on Netflix, from the series In a nutshell, dedicated to music: it explains very well how any succession of sounds, as soon as you can recognise a temporal regularity – a rhythm – is perceived as music. So even the repetition of a completely random sequence is music, and this makes it so easy today to sketch out effective loops. The problem is obviously knowing how to develop them.

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