K-drama “Do You Like Brahms?” explores subtleties of human interaction

For viewers looking for a break from the fast-paced lifestyle of the real world a perfect fit

The famous love triangle between composers Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann is often named as one of classical music’s greatest romances. Some interpret it as a great tragic love, admiring Brahms’ lifelong dedication to Clara.

But when faced with the question “Do you like Brahms?” Park Joon-young’s (Kim Min-Jae) response in the Korean television drama is that he does not. He sees the trio as a symbol of unattainable love, and finding himself in the same position that Brahms once was in, dislikes the pieces that remind him of his unrequited love. In contrast, Chae Song-ah (Park Eun-bin) admires the music of Brahms, viewing his relationship with Clara and Robert as one of unbreakable friendship. Although she too is embroiled in a love triangle, her determination to preserve her friendships leaves her hiding her feelings. The pair’s clashing interpretations of Brahms bring to light their differing values.

“Do You Like Brahms?” is a slow-burn romance that explores the comfort that music can bring. Chae Song-ah is a graduate of Seoryeong University who has returned to the school to study her passion, the violin. Unlike her peers, she did not grow up attending prestigious music institutes or performing at international competitions. She is considered “talentless” by even her teacher and is placed last in class. Through an internship with the Kyunghoo Cultural Foundation, which offers scholarships and opportunities to aspiring musicians, Song-ah meets Park Joon-young, a well-known pianist who is on his sabbatical.

Viewers will watch as Song-ah and Joon-young progress in their relationship. From awkward sympathy (due to interesting parallels in their relationships), to friendship, then love, the vanilla sweetness between the two is coupled with the usual K-drama tropes of misunderstandings and lack of communication. Placed into a setting steeped in the politics of the classical music world, “Do You Like Brahms?” has just enough drama to keep viewers interested as the show tries to keep a leisurely pace.

The main source of drama in the show stems from Song-ah and Joon-young’s tumultuous relationships. Song-ah’s best friend Kang Min-sung (Bae Da-bin) seems too preoccupied with herself and her unrequited love of their mutual friend (who is also Song-ah’s crush), Yoon Dong-yoon (Lee You-jin), to actually care for Song-ah. The lack of communication between the two best friends leaves Song-ah hurting as Min-sung pours all her relationship troubles on her.

At the same time, Joon-young is stuck between his friends Lee Jung-kyung (Park Ji-hyun) and Han Hyun-ho (Kim Sung-cheol). Jung-kyung is self-destructive, complicating the friends’ relationship by breaking up with Hyun-ho, who has desperately loved her since their school days, and confessing her love to Joon-young. Despite understanding that Jung-kyung is lashing out as a result of the expectations placed on her, her actions of telling others lies such as the fact that she slept with Joon-young make her a hard character to sympathize with.

Rather than narrating every detail, “Do You Like Brahms?” enjoys focusing on the subtleties of human interaction. Conversations are often slow and intimate, filled with pauses and minute details. The characters seem to revel in silence instead of finding those moments awkward. In between musing about music and their futures, Song-ah and Joon-young find time to simply enjoy the world around them, and the comfort of each other’s company. Simple movements such as where the eye lands reveal much more about each character’s feelings than dialogue alone.

The intimacy of Song-ah and Joon-young’s personal interactions are juxtaposed with the harshness of the classical music world. Song-ah’s days are filled with the bustling of her internship office, coming with the complete package of snarky coworkers who talk behind others’ backs. We are quickly immersed into the barrage of jealousy and hatred that comes from the competitive side of classical music. Although their jobs are to share music with those who appreciate it, Song-ah’s coworkers focus on the money and logistics, bashing Joon-young as a has-been piano player due to his absence from competitions and other events that would give him more fame.

Despite this, at school Joon-young is still considered to be a talented pianist. So when others find out that Joon-young is dating Song-ah, she is shunned for not being on his level.

The coldness of the pair’s professors doesn’t help their relationship either. Song-ah’s professor chose to mentor her only for her administrative abilities, giving her perfunctory advice rather than truly teaching her about music. Joon-young’s professor focuses on accolades above anything else. Rather than allowing Joon-young to enjoy exploring his own interpretations of music, he expects Joon-young to cater to others’ expectations to earn higher scores in competitions.

Although these roadblocks do hurt Song-ah and Joon-young, they ultimately strengthen the pairs’ affection for each other. While they face some emotional lows in their relationship, the understanding they have of each other is what keeps drawing them together.

For viewers looking for a break from the fast-paced lifestyle of the real world, “Do You Like Brahms?” is the perfect fix. The mellowness of the show allows you to fully revel in the sweetness of Song-ah and Joon-young’s interactions. Don’t expect action or court intrigue-level drama, but Song-ah and Joon-young’s relationship problems will take you on enough highs and lows to keep you glued to the screen for the weekend.