The psychology of Brian

Robert Timlin

Robert Timlin It was with considerable interest that I read Malcolm MacDonald‘s article in which he employed Jungian terminology to discuss the nature of Brian’s creativity, and I would like to add my support to Mr. MacDonald‘s thesis. Such an approach is particularly illuminating as an aid to understanding many writers, artists and composers, Brian being no exception. In fact, one could go on to state that the quality of the insights gained through this method of analysis (provided that the application is neither fussy nor doctrinaire) invariably produces effective criteria for assessing greatness.

By greatness, I am not referring to subjective matters of taste, where one person’s works are simply preferred to those of another, but to something far more fundamental, something not in the least subjective (actually the opposite); the decidedly numinous nature of certain works of art - in Brian’s case, what Mr. MacDonald calls the "music’s extraordinary potency, its capacity to shock, outrage, or move its hearers".

To designate the deeper strata of the unconscious psyche as the Collective Unconscious in the way that he did, Jung was anxious to stress that he was speaking of a phenomenon which he regarded as essentially objective. It is this area of the unconscious, containing impulses and images common to all mankind , which the creative artist’s capability to exploit and express in appropriate artistic form indicates the scope and profundity of his genius. That contact with this part of the psyche requires not only enormous courage but also mental powers of a unique kind , is amply illustrated from Jung’s own "dark night of the soul".

R eturning to Brian, and hearing in mind Mr. MacDonald‘s article, I think the word which, more than any other, describes Brian’s art is "objectivity"’, a sense that the works have somehow evolved independently of any individual consciousness, as organic and finely wrought as anything in nature. The fact that in his music Brian never aimed at popular appeal by opting for the obvious solution was the result of neither cussedness nor a deliberate desire to be obscure; it arose from a great mind‘s integrity and ability to remain true to his vision. For this reason, our response to Brian is unlikely to be the easy comfort of the wiped away tear, but, rather, the disturbance of an apocalypse.

One final point; it is curious that two such erudite students of Brian’s music, Malcolm MacDonald and Rodney Stephen Newton, should be unable to agree upon the relative merits of Symphony No.14. Is this merely a matter of musical aesthetics? Maybe we should hearken to the words of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses:

"A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."

Strangely enough, the work on which both commentators share doubts, Symphony No.13, I find a compelling and moving experience.

© 1979 Robert Timlin

See also Malcolm MacDonald‘s articles Brian as Faust and Brian and the psychologists