Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms Notes

(born May 7, 1833, Hamburg
died April 3, 1897, 9 am, Vienna)

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Johannes Brahms is considered as one of the three Big B's— Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, even during his lifetime. Except for Brahms' Hungarian Dances, I'm not familiar with Brahms' music or his biography. During my conversation with Bob Koski after the Don Quixote's Lessons on Leadership film at Stanford (February 12, 2003), he mentioned that Brahms' creativity took a giant leap after his Lullaby. I always thought Brahms' inspiration came from living with the Schumanns and his love for Clara, but never looked into the matter. These notes were typed from seven books on Johannes Brahms consulted in the Stanford Music Library. I learned much from reading them and am more appreciative of Brahms' ranking along with Bach and Beethoven. If there are any Brahms lovers who wish to enlighten me further on his musical genius (compositions & recordings for listening, web links), please email me. Thanks!

Johannes Brahms: Quotes from Books

Brahms Love for Clara Schumann

On February 12, 1856, he wrote Clara one of the most revealing letters of his life.
It always saddens me to think that after all I am not yet a proper musician; but I have more aptitude for the calling than probably many of the younger generation have as a rule. It gets knocked out of you. Boys should be allowed to indulge themselves in jolly music; the serious kind comes of its own accord, although the lovesick does not. How lucky is the man who, like Mozart and others, goes to the tavern of an evening and writes some fresh music. For he lives while he is creating.
He concluded jokingly, "What a Man!" and crushed his quill pen onto the page. In fact, he was fighting despair. (p. 153)

Brahms letter to Clara, 5/31/1856
I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say... If things go on much longer as they are at present I shall have sometime to put you under glass or to have you set in gold. If only I could live in the same town with you and my parents... Do write me a nice letter soon. Your letters are like kisses. For all the extravagant language— which sounds like a true lover's in all senses— the distance still lingers between the lines: set you in gold, live in the same town with you and my parents. To set one's lover in gold in the presence of one's parents is not a prospective husband's fantasy. It means: I want to admire you, be near you, but stay with my own and not touch you. (p. 159)

Clara may have had her own misgivings about marrying someone as young, inexperienced, and egocentric as Brahms. That summer of 1856 she was 36, he 23. She wanted to be done with childbearing and was determined to perform full-time. Yet it is inescapable that Clara did want him, for the same reason she had wanted Robert, however unrealistic that had been. She loved and admired Johannes, and for all her gravity Clara respected passion and had always followed hers, purely and directly... In 1856, she wrote down what she wanted her children, and history, to know about the relations between herself and Brahms. Her journal, written for the record as much as for herself, did not note unseemly intimacies. She wrote a testament transparently idealized and evasive, perhaps self-deluding, extraordinarily forgiving.
He came as a true friend, to share with me all my sorrow; he strengthened my heart as it was about to break, he lifted my thoughts, lightened, when it was possible, my spirits. In short, he was my friend in the fullest sense of the word. I can truly say, my children, that I have never loved a friend as I loved him; it is the most beautiful mutual understanding of two souls. I do not love him for his youthfulness, nor probably for any reason of flattered vanity. It is rather his elasticity of spirit, his fine gifted nature, his noble heart that I love... Joachim, too, as you know, was a true friend to me, but... it was really Johannes who bore me up... Believe all that I, your mother, have told you, and do not heed those small and envious souls who make light of my love and friendship, trying to bring up for question our beautiful relationship, which they neither fully understand nor ever could. (p. 164)

Yet if Brahms denied Clara as a wife, in his heart he could never desert her. To the end of his life he loved Clara Schumann to the extent of his crippled capacity to love. But always he placed that in some other time, some other world. She was the virginal priestess, going to the stage as to the altar. So in his mind and in his music only the past would seem tryly alive— Young Kreisler's past. Maybe for that reason, some of the warmest and most haunting moments in his music seem to voice a lyrical Romantic evocation of what was or could have been: the lost idyll, the unattainable lightness of life. (p. 165)

Brahms Lullaby: Wiegenlied (Cradle Song), 4th Lieder from Opus 49 (1868)

An exception to the passionate tone of most lieder from that summer [1868] was the little "Wiegenlied" ("Cradle Song"), from Opus 49, written in honor of Bertha and Artur Faber's second child. Before long a considerable percentage of humanity was to know the Wiegenlied simply as "Brahm's Lullaby", if they knew its author at all. Out in the world it became part of the human community like so many faux "folk songs", when millions took the melody into their hearts. Its verse (a second was added later) comes from the texts of Des Knaben wunderhorn:
Good evening, good night;
with roses bedecked,
with clove pinks adorned,
slip under the blanket.
In the morning, God willing,
you will waken again.
In fact, the ingenuous little tune unfolds (so much of Brahms in this) as counterpoint to a lilting Viennese Ländler that Frauenchor visitor Bertha Poubzsky used to sing to him in Hamburg, when Bertha was yound and he loved her, before he let her slip away. In the same way he had worked the old song "Josef, lieber Josef mein" into the "Geistliches Wiegenlied" for the Joachim's chld. The new "Wiegenlied" is entirely symbolic then, as Brahms hinted when he sent the song to Artur Faber in July: "Frau Bertha will realize that I wrote the 'Wiegenlied' for her little one. She will find it quite in order... that while she is singing Hans to sleep, a love song is being sung to her."
Guten Abend, gut Nacht, mit Rosen bedacht,
Guten Abend, gut Nacht, von Englein bewacht,
So Bertha became the first person to sing Brahm's Lullaby. Soon the song spread around the world in all sorts of ramshackle arrangements, which finally caused Brahms to grumble to publisher Simrock: "Why not make a new edition in a minor key for naughty or sick children? That would be still another way to move copies." Brahm didn't mind the money, but he didn't like lesser hands mangling his counterpoint, even in a lullaby. (p. 338)

Brahm's inspiration on a Swiss mountaintop (1868)

Presumably Brahms showed Clara Schumann that summer's lieder as a matter of course, but she remained oblivious to their mingling of old lost love and yearning for an impossible new love, in the person of her daughter. Clara was still stewing about Johannnes's letter saying she must cut back on performing, with its implication that she should spend more time taking care of her children... On September 12, 1868, from the Bernese Alps during another vacation with his fater, Brahms sent Clara a gesture of reconciliation more meaningful than she could have understood until years later. On a postcard he offered a few measures of music underlined with a greeting to her, noting, "Thus blew the shepherd's horn today."
Hoch auf'm Berg, tief im Tal, grüss' ich dich viel tausend mal!
His text reads, "High on the mountain, deep in the valley, I greet you a thousandfold." That melody of an alpine shepherd's horn— real or imagined— was to become the horn call soaring over strings, like sun breaking through clouds, that transfigures the introduction of the First Symphony finale. His greeting to Clara was a sign that now Brahms was preparing to pick up the C minor symphony movement he had drafted years before, and go on with it. So a horn call sent as a peace offering, destined to part the clouds of his lingering uncertainties in the weights and balances of a symphony.

But Johannes's clarion call did not resolve the issues between him and Clara. She was not ready to forgive him yet. Clara wrote to Brahms (10-15-1868):
That letter of yours is not the wall that stands between us... But I cannot help thinking that your view of my concert tours is an odd one. You regard them merely as a means of making money. I don't!... The practice of my art is an important part of my ego, it is the very breath of my nostrils.
Devotion like that Brahms could understand. Maybe now he did respect something about her more than before... he made a careful reply, in the affectionate and forthright terms he used with no one else, but this time with perhaps more secret motivation than usual:
I wanted a very quiet hour, dearest Clara, in which to put into words my heartfelt thanks for your letter... There is so much that is true in your letter— if not all— and I must confess that with remorse and regret; but with pleasure and satisfaction I realise how kind it is— only an angel like you could have written so kindly... Life is a wild polyphony, but often a good woman like you can bring about some exquisite resolution of its discords. (p. 340)

Jan Swafford, Johannes Brahms: A Biography, Knopf, NY, 1997 (ML410.B8.S93.1997)

Opus 78 of Johannes Brahms' Violin Sonata #1 in G Major
(Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio, Allegro molto moderto)
was composed 1878-1879, in the idyllic surroundings of the resort town
of Pörtschach. It was published in November 1879. Brahms connected
this work to lyrical G-major sonatas by Mozart (K. 301) & Beethoven (Op. 96),
as well as to a quote from Goethe's Queen of Heaven:
"Come, rise to higher spheres." (pp. 93-94)

Leon Botstein (Ed.), The Compleat Brahms:
A Guide to the Musical Works of Johannes Brahms
W. W. Norton, New York, 1999 (ML 410.B8.C64.1999)

Opus 78 of Johannes Brahms' Violin Sonata #1 in G Major
(Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio, Allegro molto moderto)
First published in November 1879.
In his inscription of a copy of the original edition... to the designer Heinrich Groeber, he referred to Mozart as well as to Beethoven by writing on it the incipits of the violin Sonatas in G major of both masters [Beeethoven, op. 96], setting above them the words spoken by the Himmelskönigin ['Queen of Heaven'] from Faust's Verklärung ('Transfiguration') in Goethe's Faust"Come, rise to higher spheres!" (p. 216). From the first bar the music is haunted by the Viennese-waltz cross-rhythm. The last movement arises from the "Rain" in op. 59, no. 3, and is suffused with again. The music seems to propose a regular rondo, but then reverts to the theme, but not the tempo, of the slow movement. The 'rain' returns but at last the tonic major is heard; the adagio's theme again returns, and the most beautiful close hints at the harmonies of the first movement. Clara Schumann hoped, but in vain, that this last movement would accompany her in her journey to the next world. (p. 217)

Ivor Keys, Johannes Brahms, Christopher Helm, London, 1989 (ML410.B8.K44.1989)

Brahms on wine

A wine connoisseur invited Brahms to dinner and in his honor brought out some of his
choicest bottles. "This is the Brahms of my cellar," he announced to the company.
After taking a sip, Brahms muttered, "Better bring out your Beethoven."

(Artur Rubinstein, My Young Years, Knopf, NY, 1973, web link)

Views of Brahms from Clara Schumann's Daughter Eugenie

In the spring of 1872 my mother told me that she was going to ask Brahms to give me lessons during the summer. she thought that the stimulating influence of a fesh teacher might incite me to a more eager pursuit of my studies. I felt very unhappy; Mamma could not be satisfied with my progress, and I thought that I had done my best. There was no one for whom I would have worked rather than for her. Now Brahms really did come twice a week. He entered the room punctually to the minute, and he was always kind, always patient, and adapted his teaching to my capabilities and the stage of my progress in quite a wonderful way. Also he took a great deal of trouble in the training of my fingers. He had thought about such training and about technique in general much more than my mother, who had surmounted all technical difficulties at an age when one is not yet conscious of them. He made me play a great many exercises, scales and arpeggios as a matter of course, and he gave special attention to the training of the thumb, which, as many will remember, was given a very prominent part in his own playing. When the thumb had to begin a passage, he flung it on to the key with the other fingers clenched. As he kept his wrist loose at the same time, the tone remained full and round even in a fortissimo. (p. 141)

If I might venture upon comparison between my mother's teaching and his, I would say: My mother primarily stimulated imagination and feeling, Brahms the intellect. To have been influenced by both was perhaps the most perfect teaching imaginable... We children all liked Brahms, but we treated him as one who had always been there, and this perhaps made us a little perfunctory in manner towards him. We took for granted that he was one of the family, and did not take much notice of him. As a composer we thought very highly of him, and emulated his warmest admirers in love for his compositions. We were in rapture about his Serenades and Sextets, and never tired of playing them as piano duets. (p. 147)

Marie [Eugenie's sister, 10 years older] told me that once when she had accompanied Brahms on a long walk and chattered all the time, he bought her a lovely Easter egg when they returned to the town. Another time he brought her a book of blank pages with a clasp, bound in leather. He had inscribed the first page with:
Poems by Marie Schumann
Joh. Brahms
Ddorf— March, '54.
And the second page with:
"Let who will and can pour forth
  Melodies from ev'ry tree.
There is room for many birds
  In the woods of poetry."

(p. 149)

I did not know at that time what Brahms's friendship had meant to my mother during the most tragic time of her life. It was not till several years after her death that I read the words which she had written in her diary and left to us as a last will and testament— words binding us to lifelong gratitude towards the friend who had sacrificed years of his young life to her. But I could and did understand what his existence meant to her, what he, and only he, could give her. It was Brahms to whom after our father's death she owed the supreme joy of still being able to follow step by step the creative musician's art. She had tasted this joy from childhood upwards; had developed with the creations of Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Her own beloved had led her deeply into the spirit of Bach's and Beethoven's works. Now it was Brahms whom she accompanied on his course, whose genius lent her wings to soar. She once asked me if I could at all realise what it meant to have had a friend from childhood upwards who stimulated all your noblest and most artistic qualities, who in daily and hourly intercourse lavished pearls and jewels upon you; if I did not think it natural that she felt she could not go on living deprived of such gifts, and that she clung to friends like Brahms and Joachim who could console her in some measure for what she had lost. She said she could never have borne her sorrows without the loving efforts of these friends to bring her back to music. (p. 152)

Brahms's last visit to us was during the last days of October 1895. He was on his way from Meiningen, and only stayed 24 hours. His mood was of the happiest owing to his having been fully appreciated... The next morning I heard Mamma play Prelud and Fugue with Pastorale (both written for organ) by Bach; then Brahms's Romance in F major and Intermezzo in E flat major, op. 118. A little while after she had finished I went in. Mamma was sitting sideways at her writing-table; her cheeks were gently flushed and her eyes shone as though illumined by a light from within. Brahms, who was sitting opposite to her, was evidently touched with deep emotion. "Your mother has been playing most beautifully to me," he said. I stayed with them, and presently Brahms asked me to find the third volume of Beethoven Sonatas, so that he could look up something. I took what he wanted from Mamma's shelves. He found a particular page, and exclaimed, "Really, it is wonderful how infallible your mother's ear is! Look at this note which is printed in every edition of Beethoven's Sonatas. I always thought that it must be a misprint, and when I had an opportunity lately of seeing the sonata in manuscript I found my opinion justified. Now I see that your mother has already corrected it. No other musician has an ear like that." How specially proud I was of my little mother! A few hours later Brahms said good-bye. The friends embraced and kissed as they had done for years at every meeting and parting, but this time there was to be no more meeting. Shortly afterwards my mother fell ill, and in May of the following year she was taken from us [May 20, 1896]. The last time I saw Brahms he was standing by her grave. (pp. 172-173)
[Brahms died a year later on April 3, 1897 of liver cancer.]

Eugenie Schumann, The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms,
Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, NY, 1927 (ML417.S39.S392)

Brahms celebrates his 22nd birthday at Clara Schumann's house

Düsseldorf, 8 May 1855
To Julius Otto Grimm:
Accept my warmest thanks for your friendly thought; you have made me very happy. If only you had been here to see how wonderfully and mysteriously the big white cake [sent by you] suddenly appeared on the scene! I first supposed that it was a girl sweetheart who sent it, but today I found out how the cake got here. If only you had been here to spend this splendidly jolly day with us! In the morning I received many beautiful flowers covering a portrait of my mother and sister, such good likeness that I wanted to kiss them. Then there was a photograph of dear Schumann... then the works of Dante and Ariosto. At 3 pm Joachim arrived, and with him a big parcel of bloaters, some [lead] soldiers, etc., with letters from loved ones in Hamburg. Seldom have I been so merry and joyful as I was yesterday. We are having a lot of music now and magnificently done. Bach, Beethoven, Schumann— we never can have enough. Just think, our revered master [Schumann] thought of my birthday and sent me the MS. of his Braut von Messina with a most affectionate inscription... We think of you, mainly when we play music, drink, read or go for walks— and what else is there to do?
Your Johannes Brahms (p. 368)

Brahms's Life Work

Brahms's artistic development proceeded slowly and steadily. Nevertheless, research reveals several landmarks in the master's creative activities, which can be coordinated with special events in his life. Thus it is possible to distinguish four periods in Brahms's artistic development, each of which has a character of its own.

The first period of Brahms's development included the earlies existing works up to 1855. This was the time of his growing friendship with Joachim, his affectionate relations with Robert Schumann, and his passionate love for Clara Schumann. Under the influence of a hightly romantic natue, Brahms then considered the purport of his work to be more important than its form... The young Brahms was hard, almost to harshness; he loved blunt expression and sudden contrasts, and avoided concesssions to mere comprehensibility; nevertheless his works were imbued with simplicity and a profound tenderness. Already in his creative work the folk song played an important role. In the use of instruments Brahms showed a certain monotony, for— as with the young Schumann— the piano was his principal means of expression. (p. 201)

In the works of the second period he sometimes directly followed classic models. The violent eruptions of his earlier works were abandoned, and his compositions became mellower, softer, more intimate and meditative. His 'twilight' style, with its peculiar blending of moods, was already in evidence... An example of this is the F minor Piano Quintet [Op. 34, 1864], which was originally a string quintet, then a sonata for two pianos, before it acquired its final form.

The third period opened with the elaboration of the German Requiem [Op. 45, 1868], the first great choral composition written by Brahms, which was also the first to make his name generally known... Brahms had established himself in Vienna... Intellectual and spiritual concentration became the guiding principle of his work; he expressed himself in as concise and pregnant a manner as possible, and his compositions gained thereby in power, and even in tragic violence... It is characteristic of this period that the joyous and effervescent Scherzo of his youthful works gave way to quieter and serener forms. (p. 202)

In the year 1890, after the completion of his G major String Quintet [Op. 111, 1891], Brahms felt that his creative powers were exhausted. He regarded his life work as finished, and a little later, in the spring of 1891, he made his will. Henceforth he purposed only to set his older unpublished works in order... But Brahms had resigned himself prematurely. Before long his creative impulse revived and he began to produce works that were in many respects unlike his former compositions. In the fourth period Photo: Brahm's Tin Soldiers (p. 96a) Silhouette: Brahms and Hedgehog (p. 343)

Karl Geiringer, Brahms: His Life and Work (3rd Ed.)
Da Capo Press, New York, 1982 (ML410.B8G312.1982)

Personal Characteristics of Johannes Brahms

He was shy and awkward in his boyhood years, and this awkwardness never entirely left him, and was the chief reason for the accusation of boorishness so often levelled against him... He was still slender at 20, when he arrived at Schumann's house, but he was energetic, muscularly strong, and much more masculine, though his fair hair was longer than ever. Everyone who met him was attracted by the bright blueness of his eyes and the splendid shape of his head with its wide expanse of brow... His only pleasures, away from his music, were walking and reading. From his earliest boyhood, and throughout his life, he rose at daybreak and went for a long walk. All his savings from the wretched money he earned in his early teens were spent on books, and during the long years of struggle his chief concern was the replenishing of this library of knoweledge. His Bible was his constant companion, and in later years he would astonish his friends by his familiarity with its text. He could repeat whole chapters from memory, and give accurate quotations from the Old or the New Testaments. This fondness and insight is evident in his numerous settings of Biblical words. (p. 177)

He was a very temperate man, although no one loved his beer better, and few could better appreciate a fine bottle of wine. Each day he smoked innumerable cigars, mostly of the large and strong variety. Usually he was a moderate eater, though at times his appetite was prodigious. His tastes were simple, almost frugal; and even when he became affluent he did not change his mode of living, or alter the regularity of his daily routine. He would rise at five or earlier, make himself a cup of very black coffee (he preferred his own brew, for no one else made it strong enough), and then work until twelve o'clock. He would saunter to the "Roter Igel" for luncheon, never a costly meal, then walk for about two hours in the Prater, or, for a change, in the Wiener Wald or some other country spot, and then go to a concert or theatre, after which he would eat and drink at one or other of his "taverns". He never worked after midday, and did most of his composing standing up at a high desk, for he deprecated the assistance of a pianoforte in composition. (p. 185)

His generosity was extraordinary. Many pooe musicians were indebted to him; for he could never refuse an opportunity to help a colleague, however humble his position in the profession, if the need were genuine. Only the stipulation was made, and that was silence. Brahms abhorred the thought of the word hearing of his gifts, and often suffered in consequence... An example of his generous nature can be found in his letters to Clara Schumann. In July 1888 Clara wrote to him that she thought she would have to sell her house and live in a smaller one, to enable her to pay for the education of some of her grandchildren. She was then nearly 70, and she thought it "dreadful to have to retrench now". Brahms immediately sent her 15,000 marks (£750) and wrote: "If I wished to hide my identity in sending it I should have been obliged to get somebody to write the address, and his suspicions would naturally have been aroused. So please consent and let me lay 15,000 (this includes simple and compound interest!) most respectfully at your feet. All I most earnestly beg of you is to send me a card to say it is lying there, but nothing more." Before leaving Hamburg for Vienna for the first time, he said to his father: "If things are going badly with you, music is always the best consolation; go and study my old copy of Saul— you will find still more comfort there". When the father, some time later, did open the copy, he found it full of bank-notes. Probably Simrock, Brahms' friend and publisher, and the executor of his will, could have enlightened the world about many of his benefactions; for he acted as the master's chief banker, and must have known of most of his kind deeds. (pp. 186-187)
[Silhouette of "Brahms and the Beggar" (p. 186a)]

William Murdoch, Brahms
(with an analytical study of the complete pianoforte works)
Rich & Cowan, Ltd., London, 1978 (ML410.B8.M97.1978)

Views of Brahms from the Journal of George Henschel

Wiesbaden, February 27, 1876 [Brahms age 43]
Yesterday Brahms and I left Coblence. We were quite alone in our compartment, and I had the happiness of finding him, in regard to his own self and his way of working, more communicative than ever before... "There is no real creating," he said, "without hard work. That which you would call inventin, that is to say, a thought, an idea, is simply an inspiration from above, for which I am not responsible, which is no merit of mine. Yea, it is a present, a gift, which I ought even to despise until I have made it my own by right of hard work. And there need be no hurry about that, either. It is as with the seed-corn; it germinates unconsciously and in spite of ourselves. When I, for instance, have found the first phrase of a song, say, "When the silvery moon..." [The beginning of the beautiful song, "Die Mainacht", op. 43] I might shut the book there and then, go for a walk, do some other work, and perhaps not think of it again for months. Nothing, however, is lost. If afterward I approach the subject again, it is sure to have taken shape; I can now begin to really work at it. But there are composers who sit at the piano with a poem before them, putting music to it from A to Z until it is done. They write themselves into a state of enthusiasm which makes them see something finished, something important, in every bar." Immediately after our arrival here we had a rehearsal for tonight's concert. Brahms played his "Concerto in D Minor" magnificently. His touch is wonderfully crisp and clear. (pp. 22-23)

July 17, 1876
Speaking of Schubert's setting of Goethe's songs, he said, "Schubert's Suleika songs are to me the only instances where the power and beauty of Goethe's words have been enhanced by the music. All other of Goethe's poems seem to me so perfect in themselves that no music can improve them."

Perhaps I may be allowed here to interrupt the diary for a moment, and to attention to the discretion and judiciousness with which Brahms selected the words for his songs. If we look at the texts to his vocal music, of which there exists a vast mass, we shall find that the sources— individual or national— from which he drew his inspiration, have in themselves been, to a greater or lesser degree, inspired. All his songs, duets, quartets, etc., are set to beautiful, significant, worthy poems; truly a wonderful lesson to modern composers. (p. 46)

If one of the chief aims of art be to elevate, i.e., to raise mankind for the time being above the commonplacd routine of life, above paltry everyday thoughts and cares, in short, from things earthy to things celestial, surely such aim should be discernible even in the smallest form of the expression of art.

Just as the beauties of nature, testifying to the incomprehensible greatness of the divine power, reveal themselves as convincingly in a little primrose as in the huge trees of the Yosemite Valley, in the sweet prattling of a little brooklet as in the roaring thunder of the Niagara, in the lovely undulations of the Scottish hills as in the awe-inspiring heights of the Himalayas, so beauty of soul, honesty of purpose, purity of mind, can shine as brightly in the shortest song as in the longest symphony.

No true artist then in the realm of music will debase his muse by wedding it to sentimental trash as far removed from poetry as a mole-hill from Mount Parnassus, though it often be a difficult task, especially for young people, to distinguish sentimentality fro sentiment. (p. 46)

The former may be described as superficial, aimless pity; affected, unreal, unwholesome emotion. Sentiment on the other hand is true emotion; is the feeling that grows naturally out of the sympathetic contemplation of a thing; and the sentiment it is, not the thing, which we ought to look for, even in a little song, in the first place, as a fit object for poetic and musical expression.

A true artist's spirit will not allow itself to be moved by versifications of penny-a-line newspaper reports, such as the capsizing of a little pleasure boat with two hapless lovers in it, or the death by starvation of a poor old seamstress ready to meet her lover in heaven, or effusions of a similar kind, generally ending in pseudo-religious inferences and exhortations little short of blasphemy.

"The standing of the pale, hungry little boy, outside the window of a confectioner's shop and observing inside the shop the rich, ruddy little boy eating his fill, that is not poetry, even if put into faultless verse and rhyme, but simply a fact, and a sad one, too, the contemplation of which might, in a fine poetic mind, produce the most beautiful sentiments of compassion with the sufferings of our fellow-creatures, of tenderness, of love; but to let the poor little chap march straightway to heaven, to the fortissimo accompaniment of triplets on the last page of an up-to-date ballad, that is sentimentality, and cruel mockery into the bargain." (p. 47)

I well remember what fun Brahms and I had in later years when I showed him some specimens of the typical popular English ballad and how we laughed— especially over the sad ones! But to return to the rest of the journal.

After supper we sat, quite alone in the dark on the terrace of the Fahrnberg. Soon our conversation took a more serious turn. He spoke of friendship and of men, and how, properly speaking, he believed very little in either. "How few true men there are in the world!" he exclaimed. "The two Schumanns, Robert and Clara, there you have two true, beautiful 'Menschenbilder' (images of man). Knowledge, achievement, power, position— nothing can outweigh this: to be a beautiful Menschenbilder. Do you know [Julius] Allgeyere in Münich [engraver & photographer]? There you have one, too." And then he began to talk with touching warmth of the time when, in Allgeyer's house at Karlsruhe, he wrote his "Mainacht" and the D minor movement of his "Requiem"... "I sometimes regret," he said to me after some moments of silence, "that I did not marry. I ought to have a boy of ten now; that would be nice. But when I was of the right age for marrying I lacked the position to do so, and now it is too late." Speaking of this had probably revived in him reminiscences of his own boyhood, for he continued: "Only once in my life have I played truant and shirked school, and that was the vilest day of my life. When I came home my father had already been informed of it, and I got a solid hiding." (p. 48)

"But still," he said, "my father was a dear old man, very simple-minded and most unsophisticated, of which qualities I must give you an amusing illustration: You know he was a double-bass player in the Municipal Orchestra of Hamburg, and in his leisure hours tried to increase his scanty little income by copying music. He was sitting in his room at the top of the house some fine day, with the door wide open, absorbed in writing out the parts from an orchestral score, when in walked a tramp, begging. My father looked up at him quickly, without interrupting his work, and, in his very pronounced Hamburg dialect, said: 'I cannot give you anything, my dear man. Besides, don't you know it's very wrong of you to come into a room like this? How easily might you not have taken my overcoat that's hanging in the hall! Get out, and don't you do it again!' The tramp humbly apologized and withdrew. When, a few hours later, my father wanted to go out for a walk, the overcoat of course had disappeared." Brahms then touched upon his relations to the members of his family, and told me he still supported his old stepmother. (pp. 49)

Though undisguised delighted when finding himself appreciated and acclaimed, he coveted neither fame nor applause. He was of a very simple, kind, childlike disposition. He loved children, whom— poor or rich— to make happy, was to himself a source of pure happiness. He loved the poor, to whom his heart went out in sympathy and pity. He hated show of charity. But where he could comfort in silence those who suffered in silence, those who struggled against undeserved misfortune, the sick and the helpless, there the man, so modest, sparing, and unpretentious in his own wants, became a benefactor, ready for sacrifice. no better summing up of Brahms' character and personality can conclude this little volume than that contained in the words of his old friend Franz Wüllner of Cologne: He has left us a precious inheritance, the noble example of a rare truthfulness and simplicity in art and life; of a relentless severity toward himself, of a hatred of self-conceit and pretence; of a high-minded, inflexible, unwavering, artistic conviction. To him may be truly applied Goethe's fine words in his Epilogue to Schiller's "Lay of the Bell":
"With mighty steps his soul advanced
 Toward the ever True—Good—Beautiful."

Photo: Brahms & Johann Strauss on the verandah
          of the latter's villa in Vienna (p. 58a)
Photo: Brahms on his Death-bed (p. 60a)
Painting: George Henschel in 1889 by John Singer Sargent (p. 65a)

George Henschel (1850-1934), Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms
The Gorham Press, Boston, 1907 (Reprint: AMS Press, NY, 1978) (ML410.B8H52.1978)


Web Links to Johannes Brahms

Classical Music Archives: Brahms Biography
  (pictorial biography)
Johannes Brahms Biography
  (Juilliard School of Music)
The Genius of Johannes Brahms
  (By Eileen Holland & Chris Barringer, Institute for Consciousness Research)
Anecdotes, Quotations, and Trivia of Johannes Brahms
  (from web site on Great Thinkers and Artists)
Brahm's Lullaby (Cradle Song, Wiegenlied)
  (Lyrics and Music)
Brahm's Lullaby
  (Music audio file)
Was the Composer of Brahm's Lullaby the Victim of a Sleep Disorder?
  (Chest, Press Release, July 13, 2000)
Interview with Idil Biret (Naxos News)
  (Brahms Piano Concerto No.1, 51 Exercises)
51 Exercises for the Piano
  (by Johannes Brahms)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
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