Monday, July 29, 2019

Brahms & a Few More Friends: Part 2

Looking at that photograph of Brahms and nine of his friends taken “c.1894” (see previous post, here), there are several other close friends – some of them his closest friends – who are missing. Obviously not everyone could be “in town” for a group photo, whatever the occasion.

Brahms & Joachim, 1855
Other than Clara Schumann, there's the violinist Joseph Joachim, perhaps Brahms' oldest friend, going back to his youth in Hamburg, someone he'd met while still a teenager. Though books could be (and probably have been) written about their friendship and various musical collaborations – Brahms had composed his Violin Concerto for Joachim, after all – one particularly painful period of this friendship centered around Joachim's divorce in 1884. Brahms had sided with his wife, Amalie, an alto whose voice had inspired many of his songs; and Joachim viewed Brahms' testimony at the trial as the main reason he'd lost the case. A stony silence between them was broken only by the Double Concerto in 1887, a project (which included the Joachim Quartet's cellist, Robert Hausmann) that existed solely to bring old friends back together.

Regardless of this hiatus, they would rarely have had the opportunity to socialize in Vienna, since Joachim based himself and his quartet in Berlin where he was busy teaching as well as performing. But there had been many visits across the years involving music-making together or with Clara Schumann, often “trying out” some of Brahms' latest creations. In many ways, Brahms recalled those early visits with fondness throughout his life.

Joachim with Clara Schumann at the piano, Dec. 20th, 1854
Joachim and Brahms met in 1853, when Joachim was a student in Göttingen and his friend and former fellow-student in Vienna, Eduard Reményi, stopped by, bringing along his accompanist, this shy, 19-year-old composer. Joachim was overwhelmed by Brahms' music – the first two piano sonatas among other works that never survived – and they became close friends. In September, he had “sung the praises of Johannes” to the Schumanns, so Brahms' arrival may not have been totally unexpected, but they were still unprepared for his music.

And yet already, in 1854, Joachim was writing this to a friend of his:
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“Brahms is egoism incarnate, without himself being aware of it. He bubbles over in his cheery way with exuberant thoughtlessness – but sometimes with a lack of consideration (not a lack of reserve, for that would please me!) which offends because it betrays a want of culture. He has never once troubled to consider what others, according to their natures and the course of their development, will hold in esteem; the things that do not arouse his enthusiasm, or that do not fit in with his experience, or even with his mood, are callously thrust aside, or, if he is in the humor, attacked with a malicious sarcasm. This immediately raises a barrier between him and his companion, who has been rejoicing in the society of the happy, brilliant young man whose whole personality is stamped with intellectual power. I often had to summon my sense of justice to prevent the warmth of my feeling from cooling down. He knows the weaknesses of the people about him, and he makes use of them, and does not hesitate to show (to their faces, I admit) that he is crowing over them.”
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Hans von Bülow & Brahms
To keep this post from becoming a trilogy, much less a book-length selection, I'll skip over Brahms' relationships with two members of his circle, the critic Eduard Hanslick (who was included in this group photo) and the conductor and pianist, Hans von Bülow (who was not). I've mentioned Hanslick's role as the Keeper of the Flame in the pro-Brahms camp of the “War of the Romantics,” and I think I'd already mentioned Bülow, champion of Wagner turned champion of Brahms, who'd given the world premiere of Franz Liszt's Piano Sonata and also Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, and who conducted the first performances of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger. He also premiered Brahms' 1st Symphony, once it was finally ready, which he hailed as “Beethoven's Tenth,” even coining what eventually led to famous slogan “The Three Bs” – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Hanslick, Brahms & Billroth
Instead, I want to focus on a less-well-known friend, not a musician, also missing from that photograph. Theodore Billroth was a surgeon by profession and a keen amateur pianist and violinist who once did research into the scientific analysis of musicality (not necessarily of musicianship or musical talent), identifying various “amusical” conditions as tone-deafness as well as rhythm- and harmony-deafness which suggested some of the different cognitive skills involved in the perception of music. (Unfortunately, he was not able to complete his studies before he died.)

Billroth first met Brahms when he heard the composer playing Schumann's Piano Concerto and some of his own piano pieces in Zurich in 1865, where he was then teaching and practicing as a surgeon. In addition to music – especially for Brahms' music and against Liszt's – they shared a passion for hiking in the mountains and talking about a wide variety of subjects. When he became a professor of surgery at the University of Vienna in 1867, Billroth and Brahms became close friends, quite possibly Brahms' closest friend who was not a professional musician.

In April of 1878, Brahms, Billroth, and Karl Goldmark took off for an Italian holiday, a four-week dash through Florence and Naples where Brahms and Billroth, at Clara Schumann's request, visited her very ill son, Felix. He was the last of her eight children, born shortly after Robert's attempted suicide, and named in tribute to their late friend, Mendelssohn. A poet whose poetry Brahms had set to music, much to his mother's delight, Felix would die of tuberculosis the following January at the age of 24. In Naples, Goldmark left them to return to Vienna while the others went on to Rome.

Again, in 1881, Brahms and Billroth, this time with Gustav Nottebom, the Beethoven scholar, visited several places including Taormina in Sicily where Brahms, enjoying the local wine, was “in ecstasy” as Billroth wrote home to Hanslick. The surgeon had to return home and left Brahms and his newly discovered love of Italian wine in Venice where this very serious composer was rescued at the last minute before he strolled into a canal. One of his souvenirs of this trip was a notebook of sketches that found their way into the second half of his 2nd Piano Concerto, especially the sunny finale.

Theodore Billroth
But, as with many friends, there was more than one falling-out that was difficult to repair. In November, 1892, during some of the festivities celebrating Billroth's fiftieth semester at the university, the surgeon invited Brahms to a special dinner and hoped he would play some of his recent piano pieces (presumably Op.116) so he could give them a second chance (he had disliked them on first encountering them which had annoyed Brahms). The composer was in a gruff mood, “muttered into his beard” during much of the dinner, then refused to go to the piano, only playing something else entirely once he did. Asked if that was Bach, he sneered, “Bach, Massenet, or me, what difference does it make?”, rising “imperiously” from the piano. The evening never recovered. Of course, Brahms never apologized and Billroth, already ill and unwilling to deal with such behavior any more, wrote to his daughter, “in any case, this evening has deprived me of any desire to undertake anything similar with Brahms again. He really makes it very difficult for one to keep on loving him.” It was the last time Brahms ever visited his friend's home.

Billroth's illness may have been his excuse or it may have been the continued ill-feelings between them, but Billroth did not join in on the next (and last) vacation Brahms took in Italy during the spring of 1893. It was probably just as well: Brahms spent his 60th birthday sitting beside his injured traveling companion, Josef Widmann, another close friend, who'd broken his leg in a fall (knowing, had his foot not gotten caught in an iron rung, the fall would have killed him). Brahms joked with him "If there's any sawing to be done, I'm your man," explaining how Billroth had described many of his operations to him. Small comfort, I'm sure, but at least a bit of levity to lift a friend's spirit.

In one of his last letters to Billroth, Brahms committed yet another one of those typical gaffes of his that upset the man in his last days. After Billroth died in February, 1894 – six days before the death of Hans von Bülow – Brahms, feeling guilty about this, avoided joining in with the funeral procession, instead walking the back streets to the cemetery with Max Kalbeck, his future biographer, reminiscing about the good times they'd had together.

When the painter Anselm Feuerbach, a mutual friend of theirs, died in 1880, it was Billroth who suggested Brahms write a choral tribute to him, but also suggested, in a round-about way, it could also be written to be sung at his own eventual funeral. And since, like Brahms, he was not religious, he suggested something “not too pious.” After returning from Italy, Brahms completed the piece in the summer of 1881, having found a suitable text on the recommendation of Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, Schiller's poem, Nänie, a mourning song with its opening line, “Even the beautiful must die.” Like the German Requiem, it is intended to console the living rather than mourn the dead. Brahms sent a copy to Billroth, saying he'd not forgotten their discussion the year before, hoping he'd like it. So far, I've found no record if it was ever performed in Billroth's honor after his death.

For any of my readers in the medical profession, I'd like to point out, if you don't already recognize the name, Billroth is known as the “father of abdominal surgery,” in the 1870s performing the first esophagectomy, the first laryngectomy and the first successful gastrectomy. By 1876, he had performed thirty-three operations “excising” rectal cancer. Clearly not just another amateur musician who had a lot in common with Johannes Brahms!

I'd initially wondered “where were people like Billroth or Bülow in this photo?” Had there been some kind of estrangement between Brahms and Billroth at the time? Yes. Perhaps Bülow was out-of-town? In fact, he'd gone to Cairo, but not for a performance. Now aging and plagued by intense headaches caused, it turned out, by a brain tumor, he'd recently resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic and sought the warmer, drier climate of Egypt, hoping it would ease the pain. He died there ten months after his last performance.

Now I knew: only months before this photograph was probably taken in 1894, both of these friends had died, both at the age of 64.

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Consider the clarinetist Mühlfeld's presence, here: it likely has something to do with the premiere of the sonatas Brahms had completed for him that summer. That premiere took place in Vienna in January of 1895 – close enough to “c.1894” – but consider this: the first private performance took place before the Duke of Meiningen (at whose court Brahms had often “tried out” new works before their official Viennese premieres, and where Mühlfeld was the principal clarinetist) in September of 1894. And then again, privately, for Clara Schumann in November.

It was at that November visit we get another first-hand description of Johannes Brahms – in my first post, about the two piano quartets finished when he was 28, there is a description of him by his landlady that summer. This time, it's from Clara's teenaged grandson Ferdinand (now living with her and some of her daughters, following his father's death), in awe of meeting the famous family friend. He thought Brahms was shorter and stouter than his photos – Brahms had just sent one to Clara taken with Johann Strauss, looking youthful and chipper, standing beside Brahms looking considerably older though Strauss was eight years older. Ferdinand was also fascinated by the mustache, gray on one side “and fiery red on the other.”

Daughter Eugenie was astonished how “full of life the house seemed as soon as Brahms set foot in it,” no doubt recalling the Old Days when a much younger Brahms had been a daily part of their family life. He regaled them with jokes and stories about an operation that Billroth had described to him, or telling them about Dvořák's new pieces, or how Joachim, who'd sleep like a log when they were touring together, was a terrible card player. They read through the clarinet sonatas with Mühlfeld, Clara turning pages, smiling.

But one day, during this visit, he angrily complained “I have no friends! If anyone tells you he is my friend, don't believe him!” “But,” Eugenie countered, “friends are the best gift in the world. Why should you resent them?” He only stared back at her “with wide haunted eyes and said nothing.”

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Gustav Nottebohm
Brahms had a reputation among his friends as a practical joker, most of which were enjoyed by those friends who were not the subject of them. One of my favorites concerned the noted Beethoven scholar who had published a study of Beethoven's nearly indecipherable sketchbooks. Gustav Nottebohm, who'd studied in Leipzig where he knew Schumann and Mendelssohn, met Brahms in 1862 and remained close friends until his death forty years later. In addition to his pioneering work in Beethoven Studies, Nottebohm also devised a thematic catalogue of Schubert's works

Though totally forgotten as a composer today, most of the music he wrote was in the realm of chamber music and works for piano. In a letter to Heinrich von Herzogenberg in 1876, Brahms mentioned Nottebohm in the same sentence with Schumann among the modern practitioners of variation form.

Anyway, Brahms, who was also a collector of composers' original manuscripts, took an old piece of music paper and “expertly faked” what looked like a sketch by Beethoven which, once you deciphered it, turned out to be a popular tune of the day. Bribing a food vendor to give Nottebohm a hunk of cheese wrapped in this manuscript paper, Brahms sat back and watched as Nottebohm unwrapped the cheese, examined the wrapper, put on his spectacles and, “his eyes popping,” slipped it into his pocket “with a sly air” before strolling away, munching “barehanded on the greasy cheese.” There is no record of Nottebohm's reaction once he discovered the identity of the tune, but, as they say, Brahms “dined out” on that story for quite some time.

Brahms also had a reputation for making cruel and often hurtful remarks even to his dearest friends. One could explain it as a lack of a “social filter,” or simply of empathy. There are numerous examples of such clueless behavior including many written to Clara Schumann who found them especially painful; but considering Karl Goldmark was represented on the second of this summer's concerts, I'll use a particularly odious one directed at this good friend.

Brahms appreciated what made these Viennese friends of his imminent in their field, but he also needed companions who could “light up a cigar and down a few glasses and make a back room ring with gossip and good talk and manly laughter.” Considering the make-up of Vienna at the end of the 19th Century, many of these friends were Jewish: Joseph Joachim, Eduard Hanslick, Julius Epstein, Ignaz Brüll, Karl Goldmark, Eusebius Mandyczewski, the baritone and composer George Henschel and, later, Gustav Mahler. Toward the end of his life, responding to the antisemitism that had become endemic in Austrian politics, Brahms growled, “next week I'm going to have myself circumcised!”

So it is uncomfortable to read this anecdote about Brahms and Goldmark even with that context.

Karl Goldmark
Goldmark was a gentle, mild-mannered man who found himself frequently the butt of Brahms' often narcissistic comments. He'd once told another friend, “Goldmark is such a terrific guy, both as a man and a musician, [but] the only trouble is he's so sensitive I can't go without teasing him. I'm often sorry aftewards; still, he... ought to know how to take a joke.” Once, when Goldmark received a highly regarded state prize, the Order of Leopold, something Brahms had also received, Brahms was unrelenting in pointing out he himself was the “superior” of the two winners. Another member of the circle who observed much of this noted how Goldmark was often “on edge” in Brahms' presence.

One such incident, perhaps the final straw, took place at a dinner hosted by Ignaz Brüll when several of the other guests began complimenting Goldmark on his recent setting of a psalm translated by Martin Luther, when Brahms piped up “Don't you think it extraordinary a Jew should set Martin Luther's words?”

Despite the pin-drop silence and Goldmark's obvious pallor, Brahms, completely oblivious to his friends' discomfort, went on and on about the “impropriety” of setting things outside one's own faith until, apparently, the dinner came to an abrupt end. (I have this image of Brahms looking around, totally clueless, going “what! What'd I say!”) And as Brahms never apologized for the remark – apparently the only antisemitic remark of his to be recorded – Goldmark still avoided him for “a long time” after that and eventually moved out of Vienna to the lakes and hills of Gmunden, closer to Salzburg, as if to give himself a little breathing room.

To be fair, in 1895, Brahms was commenting on the serious political change happening in Vienna, he and his friends apprehensive about the future. The long liberal rule of the city's government had come to an end with the election of the right-wing Christian Social Party which “mixed populism, socialism, and pandering to the antisemitic instincts of both the working class and the German-speaking Catholics and aristocrats,” as Swafford explains it. “With [Karl] Leuger's victory, successful politics in Austria became antisemitic by definition, from then until Hitler.”

In fact, Leuger came to power much the way Hitler would in Germany, first by becoming second-in-command (as Hitler would first become Hindenburg's vice-chancellor), then inevitably moving ahead into complete power. “Brahms barked across the table to his friends [at their favorite hang-out, Zum roten Igel (the Red Hedgehog)]: 'Didn't I tell you years ago that it was going to happen? You laughed at me then and everybody else did, too. Now it's here, and with it the priests' economic system. If there was an “Anticlerical Party” – that would make sense! But antisemitism is madness!'”

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Rocking a Fellinger Tie
While musicians naturally tended to gravitate to Brahms' personal circle, I want to tell you a little about the Family Fellinger. Richard Fellinger, according to Jan Swafford's biography of Brahms, was “another prosperous music-loving industrialist” and his wife Maria “a painter, sculptor, and photographer” who, in addition to being “a Hausfrau who cooked a marvelous Metzelsuppe (a Swabian peasant dish), also knitted him the kind of socks his mother used to.” She also made many of his favorite ties: in one of the more familiar photographs of Brahms, he is sporting one of Frau Fellinger's ties. 

The family settled in Vienna in 1881, moving from Berlin where one of their friends was the cellist of Joachim's quartet, Robert Hausmann. They met Brahms shortly afterward. Maria's mother had been a singer and a composer – imagine, another “woman composer”! – admired by Mendelssohn both as a singer and a singer-of-her-own-songs. Before, Brahms had set to music several poems of her father, Christian Reinhold.

Brahms w/the Fellinger sons
Imagine this domestic scene: Brahms on the floor of the Fellinger home, perhaps at one of those Sunday dinners that became such a ritual at the time, playing with the family children who'd greet him with cries of “Onkel Bahms!” This photo (see left) of Brahms with the now-grown-up sons, Richard (junior) & Robert Fellinger, was taken at the Fellinger's Silver Anniversary celebration in mid-June, 1896.

Brahms & Marie Soldat, 1895
Frau Fellinger took several candid photos of Brahms, many in the garden of their home, like the one with the violinist Marie Soldat. She was a student of Joachim's when Brahms first heard her play when she was 15 around the time he was writing his violin concerto, and in 1885 she would become the first woman to play it, in fact the only woman to play it for many years. In 1895 she formed the "Women's String Quartet" whose violist was Natalie Bauer-Lechner who was a friend of Gustav Mahler's between 1890 and 1901 and whose journals provide a unique picture of Mahler's personal, professional and creative life (there's a long story, there, but let's leave it at that for now). A little over a week before Brahms died, Marie's quartet and Richard Mühlfeld were going to play Brahms' Clarinet Quintet for him (more on that below). Marie died in 1955, but there is a recording made in 1920 of her playing the Adagio from Ludwig Spohr's 9th Violin Concerto (with piano) which you can listen to, here.

Robert Hausman, Brahms, Maria Fellinger (1889?)
Perhaps the most famous of Frau Fellinger's photographs are those taken in the family music room with Brahms and the cellist Robert Hausmann. It was here they "tried out" the new 2nd Cello Sonata for some friends and quite likely where they read through Antonín Dvořák's recently completed Cello Concerto shortly after the composer returned from New York City in 1895. While the photograph is quite dark – the heavy draperies, the wallpaper, Frau Fellinger's dress, the ebony Streicher piano, even Hausmann's cello – you can make out the portrait on the prominently-placed easel. It was common to represent someone who couldn't be present or who had "recently departed" by placing their portrait within the frame. In this case, the absent friend is Clara Schumann, her portrait apparently based on a London photograph taken in March, 1887.

It's too bad Frau Fellinger didn't take any photographs on December 2nd, 1889, when Theo Wangemann, a recording engineer (apparently the first ever recording engineer!) working for Thomas Edison, visited the Fellinger's to record Dr. Johannes Brahms. He had already recorded German chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Field-Marshall Count Helmuth Karl von Moltke who, incidentally, led the Prussian army to victory in the 1864 War against Denmark mentioned in the post on Niels Gade.

According to one of Fellinger's sons, the first voice recorded was an identifying introduction by engineer Wangemann, followed by Brahms saying "In the home of Herr Doktor Fellinger, I am Dr. Brahms – Johannes Brahms." His intention had been to play the Op.79 G Minor Rhapsody (dedicated to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, btw) but the set-up had taken so long, Brahms had become impatient, so he played two lighter pieces instead: a bit of his Hungarian Dance No. 1 and a popular polka by Josef Strauss, Die Libelle ("The Dragonfly").

The sound quality has understandably deteriorated over the years, mostly from simply being played – still, imagine listening to the voice of Moltke, a man born in 1800! (listen to some of them, here) – but in this video you can hear the raw original sound, then hear the piece as played in a modern recording, then the 1889 audio with a reinforced melody line followed by the original audio once again. As a bonus, there's a recording of the same Hungarian Dance Brahms had played, recorded by Joseph Joachim in 1903. Yes, the audio is barely audible under all the distortion, but imagine actually listening to Brahms playing the piano!

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But Maria Fellinger did more than just cook dinners and take photographs of Brahms.

When Brahms' long-term housekeeper at Karlsgasse No. 4 died in 1887, it was Frau Fellinger who found him Celestine Truxa who became his housekeeper until his death. That night, Frau Truxa came home and was met by her sons, alarmed by the stranger in the living room, measuring their furniture. The stranger announced himself as Herr Doktor Brahms and he was delighted to find her furniture would fit into his houskeeper's apartment next door to his own.

Brahms' Apartment (note bust of Beethoven) Photo by Maria Fellinger
Max Kalbeck described Brahms' apartment as sunny and smelling of coffee. The grand piano's lid was always kept close to mute the sound of the instrument in deference to his neighbors, and on its top he would display a collection of medals and various mementos. The walls were adorned with various paintings including a print of Raphael's Sistine Madonna over the couch and a portrait of Bach over his bed.

Perhaps intended as a joke, given its presentation, is the large white plaster bust of Beethoven overlooking the piano's keyboard, as if keeping an eye on the composer as he worked. Remember his quip, years before when talking about why it took so long for him to complete his 1st Symphony, about what it was like trying to write a symphony hearing the tramp of a giant like Beethoven behind you? Well, there is Beethoven – still – looking over his shoulder!

There was also a portrait of Luigi Cherubini (not easily visible on the far left side of Maria Fellinger's photo), which I found a surprising choice, but Brahms identified with him, “a once-famous craftsman the world was determined to forget.” However, if you know the famous Ingres painting of Cherubini being inspired by his muse, you might be surprised Brahms found the muse “ridiculous” and cut a piece of cardboard which he used to cover her up. Perhaps Brahms was saying “a craftsman does not rely on inspiration,” despite the role of Clara Schumann and Elisabeth von Herzogenberg in his own life?

Near the bust of Beethoven, Brahms placed a bas-relief of his hero, the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, surrounded by a laurel wreath (remember the anecdote I mentioned in a previous post regarding his infamous visit to Copenhagen and the party hosted by Niels Gade in 1868?).

One winter (February, 1892?), the Fellingers had installed electricity in Brahms' apartment, much to his surprise and initial displeasure. It consisted of a kind of track-lighting lamp hanging from the ceiling which could be moved between the piano keyboard and the table beside it where he kept his coffee-maker. There was a similar set-up in his library, as well. You can see the lamp in the photograph above.

In the left-side corner, one can see a bit of Frau Truxa's rocking chair which Brahms always directed a guest to sit in (especially attractive young ladies). Perhaps rocking chairs were not a familiar item to the Viennese, but Brahms delighted in seeing his guests thrown back in surprise, legs (and presumably skirts) flying, or thrown forward and dumped on the floor, knees first. In another corner was a firescreen he would sometimes hide behind when guests arrived (especially unannounced), then startle them with “a burst of fiendish laughter.”

(In May, 1933, the newspaper Wiener Bilder or “Vienna in Pictures” published an article celebrating Brahms' Centennial and included an illustration of "Brahms at Home," along with an interview with Frau Truxa. You can read it here in the original German.)

Not only was Frau Truxa a good housekeeper, she also acted as a go-between with her employer and the immediate wider world. A woman who lived downstairs, in an attempt to impress her famous neighbor, would frequently play his music – badly – which drove Brahms to distraction. Considering his level of diplomacy, when he spoke to her about this, the result was, she hired a conservatory student to come in every day to play for hours – loudly. It was Frau Truxa who, extolling the virtues of the zither (which she herself played), convinced her it was better to fire the student and take up the zither, even offering to throw in free lessons. However gullible the neighbor must have been, it worked, and peace was again restored to Karlsgasse No. 4...

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Clara Schumann, 1894
Even with Clara Schumann, his dearest and closest friend for over 40 years, there had been these occasional dust-ups in their letters – since they were rarely ever in the same place for very long – especially over her constant need to concertize. He had advised her to cut back on this for the sake of her children, failing to understand it was the only way she could put food on the table for her children (and then, after two of her sons died, her grandchildren who'd come to live with her). One of the richest living composers at the time thanks to his Hungarian Dances and a little thing called “Brahms' Lullaby,” Brahms had arranged a “secret fund” through his publisher to be sent to her to help her financially: she would have been too proud to accept it directly as mere charity.

Fourteen years his senior, Clara's arthritis soon made it difficult and eventually impossible to play in public. For her old age, Brahms composed those wonderful, “autumnal” piano pieces – four sets, Op.116-119 – and sent them to her as he'd complete each one. One of the first ones he'd sent her, the Intermezzo in B Minor (actually one of the last set to be published, Op.119) so delighted her: “that bittersweet piece which for all its discords is so wonderful.” She called it “a gray pearl.” In the end, these were a great solace to her, and her eldest daughter Marie, now her mother's care-giver, often heard her playing them in the solitude of the music room.

If it had not seemed like it before, in May of 1896 Brahms' world began to fall completely apart. Through a series of misunderstandings and mistakes, Brahms missed receiving the telegram informing him of Clara Schumann's death and, between its being forwarded to his summer vacation spot and then missed trains and misinformation, he barely made it to Clara's funeral in time. The anxiety was bad enough, but the emotion of the unexpected news, of his arriving just as the procession had started (she would be buried next to Robert), and his subsequent exhaustion initiated a tailspin in his own health. He had just turned 63 and rarely ever been ill, but that summer he was diagnosed as having jaundice and also had to suffer the indignity of dentures. He had aged considerably over the past few years – he always looked older than he was – but now, he aged even more quickly.

Richard & Maria Fellinger, Brahms, probably Robert Hausmann; standing Richard (Jr.) & Robert Fellinger
On June 15th, 1896, Brahms attended the Fellingers' Silver Wedding Anniversary party. Here, Richard Fellinger gallantly kisses his wife's hand, their sons, Richard (junior) and Robert, looking on. The man on the far right, often cropped out of the photo in other sitings on-line, is unidentified, but looks to me like the cellist Robert Hausmann. Brahms looks considerably “shrunken and strained.” Given the context of that year's events – Clara's death, his own failing health – perhaps one can understand Brahms was not merely “having a miserable time” as one site light-heartedly captioned this photo.

Then, in September, Brahms gave in and made a reluctant visit to Karlsbad, a famous health spa, where he began working on some organ chorale preludes. The weather was good, he wrote friends, he felt he was responding to treatment, being told this jaundice had “no further significance.” Another specialist there examined Brahms on his arrival and diagnosed “cancer of the liver” (the same disease that killed his father) but Brahms had requested the doctor not to tell him anything unpleasant, and so he kept his word.
The last photo Marie Fellinger took of Brahms: in her garden, 1896
In March, two weeks after hearing his 4th Symphony at the Musikverein, Brahms went to visit a friend who's organized a rehearsal of his recent clarinet quintet for him, including the clarinetist he'd composed it for, Richard Mühlfeld, and Marie Soldat and her Women's String Quartet – but when he got there, he said he'd heard his own piece often enough and would prefer they play Weber's B-flat Clarinet Quintet instead.

Taken home by his friend Max Kalbeck, his future biographer, and a first-hand source for many of the anecdotes we know about Brahms' personal life, Brahms never left his apartment again. Writing a few notes to friends, including his still-surviving step-mother in Hamburg, his last note was to his friend Ignaz Brüll, informing him he would not be able to make the dinner set for the next day.

Ten days later, he died, a little over a month before his 64th birthday.

- Dick Strawser

Brahms & a Few More Friends: Part 1

Brahms looking a bit dubious about yet another post...
Even though Summermusic 2019's concert series, “Brahms Beyond Borders,” is over – you can read about each concert and hear each work on the program in earlier posts – the idea of listening to music by other composers in some relationship to Brahms sparked an idea about that personal side of the composer's life (since all we normally know is the music) and so I couldn't resist going behind the music to find out a little about Johannes Brahms and some of his other friends.

(I should point out, you won't have to wait long to hear more Brahms with Market Square Concerts: Midori opens the new season on September 20th opening with the Sonatensatz written in October of 1853, shortly after Brahms met Schumann and his contribution to a collaborative sonata with other movements by Schumann and his student Albert Dietrich, a gift for the violinist Joseph Joachim), and concluding with the 3rd Violin Sonata, Op.108, completed in 1888. And the season will end in May with pianists Stuart Malina & Ya-Ting Chang and four singers performing Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes!)

Most concert-goers, understandably, only think of The Great Composers through their music with very little context to a particular piece in relation to the composer's life or the times it was written in. Somewhere, I probably still have the little bust of Brahms I was given as a piano student when I was 8 or 9, and I was surprised, when I first heard his 1st Symphony a few years later, to realize this music could never have been written by a marble bust! That's when I started getting interested in what's going on in their lives behind the music and what was going on around the music we're listening to. To many of my readers, it's possible they'd wonder what this has to do with the music, but composers didn't write in a vacuum.

That was one of the interesting details of the music Peter Sirotin had programmed for this three-concert series, even if there were only two pieces by Brahms himself, both written (or, more accurately, completed) the same summer of 1862 he'd just turned 28. Of the other four composers, Karl Goldmark was a personal friend and colleague; Dvořák was initially a protege who became a friend and one of the few living composers Brahms truly admired (he envied his ease with a melody, for one); Niels Gade was the leading composer in Denmark who, though not a friend, was an acquaintance (one meeting I recount in the post taking place a few years after Gade's string sextet was composed); and Ernő Dohnányi had showed his sextet, written when he was in his mid-teens, to Brahms and became, in a sense, one of the last of those young composers Brahms gave advice and support to. (Gade and Dohnányi are both included in the third of the Summermusic posts.)

So, whether you were aware of it or not, there were four pieces written between 1862 and 1864, and then two more written during the last years of Brahms' life, between 1894 and 1896. And while Brahms may not have had any direct influence on Gade and Goldmark when they composed these pieces, Brahms was certainly a major figure in the evolution of the mature voices, both as inspiration and model, for Dvořák and Dohnányi.

Perhaps the most important thing for a listener to realize is, however they may relate to the composer, these composers were living, breathing, often struggling, sometimes happy people who had a life outside the music they composed. And so, in that context, here is Johannes Brahms, one of the great beards in classical music giving him a most formidable look, in the company of some of his personal friends – outside the music.

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Clara & Robert Schumann
When you read about “Brahms and His Friends,” it's normally about Robert and Clara Schumann, or the violinist Joseph Joachim. Of course, the Schumanns were a major facet of Brahms' life, both personally and musically, though Robert, who “discovered” the 20-year-old Brahms on his doorstep on September 30th, 1853, hardly got to know him before his suicide attempt five months later and his eventual confinement to a mental hospital where he died in 1856. But Brahms remained a close friend of Clara and the family – in addition to visiting Schumann in the asylum – a stalwart supporter during the crisis. And he remained close to the entire family until his death in 1897, less than a year after Clara's.

Books could be (and certainly have been) written speculating about the relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann, almost making it sound like some intense love triangle – hardly, given the fact of Robert Schumann's final years – but facts won't be enough to clarify (no pun intended) the enduring bond between them, spanning almost 44 years. If anything, she served as muse and critic, Brahms frequently sending her recently completed works for her evaluation – it seems he never published anything that did not meet with her approval – just as she went out into the musical world and championed his music as one of the greatest pianists of the day (the polar opposite of Franz Liszt the pianist just as Brahms was the polar opposite of Liszt the composer). You only have to read the story about the travails of Brahms' first symphony – the various attempts to start one; the long gestation that led to the final breakthrough to complete one – to understand the importance of this relationship, whatever one chooses to call it.

Here's an image of familial bliss: Brahms, remember, was barely 20 when he was practically adopted into the Schumann family, helping Clara deal with reality during her husband's confinement, often babysitting the children while she practiced or toured (imagine Brahms playing piggy-back with the younger ones!). This photograph, taken around 1860, includes five of the Schumann children: Felix (named after Mendelssohn, born after Robert's suicide-attempt), Elise, Julie (the tall one in the middle), Marie, and Eugenie.

Julie Schumann in 1868
Later, on frequent visits, especially during the summers, Brahms and Clara would play four-hand piano music in the midst of the family's evenings, or play chamber music with friends like Joseph Joachim. In 1869, he published a series of "Love-Song Waltzes" (the famous Liebeslieder, Op. 52), first heard on these Evenings at the Schumanns, with Johannes and Clara at the piano, a quartet of the older children and some friends standing around the piano, singing, others sitting back and listening to this "home-entertainment center" when music was very much DIY.

(Usually heard as a choral work, the original vocal quartet version will conclude Market Square Concerts 2019-2020 Season in May, as I mentioned above.)

But the very shy young Brahms was in love at the time, in fact in love with Clara's daughter Julie and he was just about to build up the courage to ask for Julie's hand when Clara, all excited, told him Julie had just been proposed to: she's going to marry an Italian count! And Clara could not understand why Brahms, given this news, turned pale and ran out of the house.

Not long after this, Brahms composed one of his most desolate pieces, known simply as The Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53, in which a heart-broken lover is "urged to find spiritual sustenance and throw off the shackles of his suffering." He gave it to Julie as a wedding present.

Like I said, quite often composers do not compose in a vacuum, but are often impacted by very real events in their lives. Case in point...

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Elisabeth von Herzogenberg
Which leads me to another muse and love-interest, in this case definitely unrequited: Elisabeth von Herzogenberg was born in Paris in 1847, her father the ambassador from the King of Hannover, himself a piano student of Frederic Chopin's. Elisabeth showed great promise as a pianist herself when the family moved to Vienna where she studied with Julius Epstein, one of the major pianists teaching at the Vienna Conservatory. When Brahms settled in Vienna in 1862, Elisabeth's father asked Brahms to take over his sixteen-year-old daughter's lessons but for whatever reasons, Brahms decided it would be better for her to return to Epstein (now a friend of his) for her studies. And of course there is reason to speculate about those reasons, whether he'd fallen in love with her or not: Epstein later wrote “one could not but fall in love with her.” And Ethel Smyth, the English composer who later lived with her and her husband when she was a student in Leipzig, described her as “not really beautiful but better than beautiful, at once dazzling and bewitching.”

The Herzogenbergs
In 1866, Elisabeth married a scholarly aristocrat from Graz whose full name was Heinrich Picot de Peccaduc, Freiherr von Herzogenberg, a Bach scholar, a composer, and a Brahms fan who, after 1874, lived and taught in Leipzig. When he completed a set of variations on a theme of Brahms' in 1876, Elisabeth sent them to her former teacher. It was a kind of enigmatic reunion, one both “beautiful and excruciating.” He had a “deep affection” for her – now called Lisl – and “respect” for her husband. In fact he never cared for him or his music, no matter how much it seemed to imitate his own style. Despite her cajoling, Brahms almost never expressed approval of Herzogenberg's works. Later, as Elisabeth became increasing ill with heart disease, Brahms grudgingly relented somewhat writing, “Herzogenberg is able to do more than any of the others.”

That she was a composer herself is fascinating. Unfortunately, as an aristocratic amateur, it was “not permitted” (socially) for her to publish her music, so beyond a collection of 24 folk songs she'd arranged, nothing else of hers appeared in print. Only one other work survived her death, a set of eight piano pieces which her husband dedicated to various of their friends and sent to each of them. Brahms then made arrangements to publish them in Vienna by way of tribute.

Surprisingly, her music does not imitate Brahms: what I hear is more a Mendelssohnian lyricism (like his “Songs without Words”) but with a polyphonic texture that is certainly thanks to Brahms. Given her own abilities as a pianist – Epstein called her “a genius” – it's no surprise in 1879 Brahms dedicated his two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, to her.

In this insightful video clip, you'll find out more about Elisabeth von Herzogenberg than you ever knew before, and I highly recommend listening to it, even with the annoying voice overlay or having to deal with reading the subtitles. (Love the cat, though...)

Listen especially to the one folk-song setting beginning around 5:54 which sounds so much like one of Brahms own idyllic songs, especially in her treatment of a supposedly incidental piano epilogue at 6:24-6:32!

Here, without distractions, is an andante from this set of eight pieces:

It makes one wonder how much good music we've lost thanks to those stupid and horrid attitudes that women should be neither seen nor heard, much less not compose music or publish it!

After Brahms finally finished his 1st Symphony in 1876 , he quickly wrote his 2nd Symphony and teased Elisabeth about it. Considering how dark and fearsome the 1st Symphony was, especially that heart-pounding opening, he wrote:

“I shall not need to play it to you beforehand. You have only to sit down at the piano, put your small feet on the two pedals in turn, strike the chord of F Minor several times in succession, first in the treble, then in the bass... and you will gradually gain a vivid impression of my 'latest.'”

Of course, the D Major Symphony is all light and sunshine, almost “pastoral” by comparison. But Brahms loved his little jokes: he'd also written to his publisher it was “so melancholy you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning” (that is, with a black border around the cover).

Like Clara, Elisabeth also was receiving new works to be “reviewed,” as Brahms often sought critical reactions from friends to his latest pieces before he'd consider publishing them (whether he listened to some of their advice or not). Elisabeth enjoyed his C Minor Piano Trio, Op. 101 of 1886 and called it, with its optimistic outcome, “a more satisfactory image” of Brahms than the recently completed 4th Symphony which left most of his friends confused, “better than any photograph for it shows your real self.” After receiving a set of songs and some new choral pieces, Elisabeth wrote back, “I have an unfortunate love of truth. I would not dare to say a word about what fills me with enthusiasm in these sets, if I were to remain silent about what fails to move me.” And though Brahms may have loved to dish out criticism to other composers, he was fairly thin-skinned himself, depending on the source. But from Clara and Elisabeth, he respected their views and often made changes accordingly or decided, in some cases, not to release the work at all. Even though I can't find verification of it at the moment, I remember reading about the two new piano trios Brahms sent Clara one summer, one I believe the C Major, Op.87 (completed in 1882), the other in E-flat Major: while she was enthusiastic about the first one, the E-flat trio was never to be seen again.

Imagine his response, after receiving a letter from Lisl in 1877 telling him about her visit to her friend Clara Schumann in Berlin which happened to coincide with his birthday, and about their plans to celebrate with some music that evening. “How your ears should burn when we drink your health! Let me tell you it is a red-letter day for us, the day when you graciously condescended to visit this planet.” She then continued, telling him about the seventeen new songs (Op.69–Op.72) he'd sent her (and Clara) and which ones she liked or didn't like, then apologizing for breaking off because it was time to “fetch” Joachim for an evening of music-making.

According to his housekeeper, Brahms kept a photograph of Lisl on his writing desk for some time, and at one point gave her its empty frame, suggested she put her husband's portrait in it to keep on her desk. He was devastated by her death in 1892 – she was only 44 though ill with heart disease for some time – and wrote to Heinrich,

“It is vain to attempt any expression of the feelings that absorb me so completely. And you sit there alone in your dumb misery, speechless yourself and not desiring speech from others... You know how unutterably I myself suffer by the loss of your beloved wife, and can gauge accordingly my emotions in thinking of you, who were associated with her by the closest possible ties... It would do me so much good to sit beside you quietly, press your hand, and share your thoughts of the dear marvelous woman.... I preserve in [her letters] above all one of the most precious memories of my life, and furthermore a rich treasure of feelings and wit, which, of course belongs to me alone.”

But there would be few letters between him and Herzogenberg afterward. He was no more inclined now to “smile” on Herzogenberg's work than before and, in general, preferred to avoid the subject.

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Ethel Smyth & Marco (1891)
Ethel Smyth was another composer who came into Brahms' orbit, solely through her association with the Herzogenberg's. An English composer who fought long and hard to overcome her father's prejudices against her studying music, she'd gone to Leipzig in 1877 where, at 19, she'd studied composition with Carl Reinecke – and where she met Dvořák, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky – but left after a year, disillusioned by the “low standard of teaching.” Instead, she began studying privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg and lived with him and his wife for the duration of her studies there. She became, in a sense, Elisabeth's “adopted daughter.” It was through the Herzogenbergs that she met Clara Schumann and, eventually, Johannes Brahms.

Going on to become a composer in her own right, not to mention an important figure in the women's rights movement in England, jailed for two months in 1912 after demonstrating for women's suffrage, she also wrote about her student years in Leipzig, including her first-hand impressions of Brahms (speaking of insightful) both about his friendship with the Herzogenbergs but also about his personality in general, not always complimentary.

Here is a recording of Dame Ethel reading this account, made sometime in the 1930s when she'd be in her 70s:

The influence of Brahms – musically speaking – on Ethel Smyth's development as a composer might be indisputable, listening to this first movement of her first piano trio, an early (and eventually unpublished) work written in 1880.

However, one could also point out she also had studied with Heinrich von Herzogenberg whose work is almost completely unknown to modern American audiences and whose style is generally dismissed as too reminiscent of Brahms' own. What might her own composition teacher's influence been at the time she composed this? On the other hand, I can't say Herzogenberg's music is so thoroughly imitative of Brahms to be mistaken for something as derivative of The Master as this student work. It is, after all, a student's job to be omnivorous and essentially imitate whatever she'd find appealing: eventually, some things are absorbed and others discarded, eventually leading the way to, with any luck, something that might be considered “the mature voice.” Original or not, not everyone reaches that point, unfortunately.

Wikipedia manages to give Herzogenberg some credit against the usual riff: “While Herzogenberg has tended to be characterized as a mere epigone of Brahms, many of his compositions show little or no overt Brahmsian influence, for example his two string trios Op.27 Nos. 1 & 2 [here's a link to the Minuet from the 2nd trio], while some early compositions pre-dating his acquaintance with Brahms have features in common with the [later] composer.”

So here, by way of defense, is the Violin Sonata No. 1 of Herzogenberg's, published in 1881 (his photo on the graphic is dated 1894): written during the height of whatever his relationship with Brahms might have been, it certainly doesn't sound like a mere imitator of (as he would have considered Brahms) the world's greatest living composer.

You could make an argument that another influence here – not just the common denominator of Robert Schumann – could be Edvard Grieg, another friend of the Herzogenbergs who was also a guest in their home when he and his wife visited Leipzig. It's not to say that Old Heinrich (as his photos might make us think him, a stuffy academic) was so bereft of his own talent he couldn't write something without copying someone else, but there are few composers I've known or read about who would not, at one time or another, have heard another composer's music and probably thought (a.) “I can do better than that!” or (b.) “I like that: how can I do it my way?”

While the reminders of Brahms' influence practically stifle the Trio for Oboe, Horn, and Piano of 1889, much of that can be laid to Brahms' Horn Trio of 1865 and the nature of the horn (there's not much you can do with traditional “hunting-horn calls” from the instrument's stereotypical “bag-of-tricks”). Still, it's a delightful piece and deserves being heard if for no other reason than there's so little music for a combination like this – as long as it's not played on the same program with Brahms' Horn Trio... Here's the scherzo, but I recommend the whole trio if you have the time (I recommend the rest of the individual movements' clips from Albrecht Mayer's Decca recording, heard here).

While I would not normally want to sit through a whole program of “People Who Imitated Brahms Badly,” I wouldn't mind hearing some of Elisabeth von Herzogenberg's eight piano pieces and the folk-song settings along with her husband's 1st Violin Sonata. If I were still programing classical music for the radio, I could easily see that on my playlist and probably throw in the horn trio's scherzo to fill out the hour.

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The genesis of this post was a pair of photographs I'd found on-line, both without caption or date and without identifying who Brahms' companions were, setting up a mystery I felt needed to be followed through.

The first of these is one of Brahms in the midst of a phalanx of nine other friends lined up against a wall.
Front Row: Walter, Hanslick, Brahms, Mühlfeld; 2nd Row: Brüll, Door, Gänsbacher, Epstein, Hausmann, Mandyczewski 
Other “search results” brought up a date – “c.1894” – and one site kindly listed names. Many of the faces were recognizable to me, but only one of the names was a complete puzzle, the first one seated on the far left.

He is Gustav Walter, who I discovered was a Bohemian-born tenor who'd sung in the premiere of Karl Goldmark's Queen of Sheba in 1875 and was a professor of voice at the Vienna Conservatory after 1882. After retiring from the stage in 1887, he continued to be a well-known recitalist, performing and premiering several songs by Brahms and Dvořák, including Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes and, most recently, Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Op.105/1, (originally for low voice and written his friend, the alto Hermine Spies) in 1888 with Brahms at the piano. Brahms had published a number of songs – Op.105-107 – which were edited by his friend Eusebius Mandyczewski (see below).

Next, the man on Brahms' right, is the critic Eduard Hanslick, very much Brahms' “right-hand man,” Vienna's “High Priest of Brahms.” He was viciously anti-Wagnerian and it was primarily his journalistic vitriol that fueled the great Wagner-Brahms Feud known as “The War of the Romantics.” Hanslick had the honor, so to speak, of being lampooned in Wagner's Die Meistersinger as Sixtus Beckmesser – he'd originally wanted to call him Hanslich (in the past I remember thinking it was Hans Lick, neither particularly subtle) but friends talked him out of it – the comic villain of the piece, a frumpy, old-fashioned composer critical of the new wave led by the handsome, likable hero, Walter (a self-portrait of Wagner, no doubt), whose Prize Song ultimately defeated Beckmesser's Old-Style Music with its rigid rules, and won the day (and the beautiful maiden's hand) with its breath-of-fresh-air beauty.

On Brahms' left is clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, whom Brahms heard play for the first time in January, 1891 and to whom we owe all of the wonderful clarinet repertoire of Brahms' final years. Having announced his retirement the year before, Brahms was soon inspired by Mühlfeld's playing, quickly composing a series of masterpieces, including two sonatas, just completed in July, 1894.

The first man standing (so to speak) in the second row, is Ignaz Brüll, not a very prolific composer (though he wrote seven operas, something Brahms never attempted to do). While I've heard both his piano concertos (they're available on Hyperion's Romantic Concertos series, volume 20), since this is a program of chamber music, I'll suggest his only Piano Trio in E-flat, completed in 1876.

He was a very sensitive pianist, Brahms' “go-to” collaborator when he would preview his latest works in four-hand piano arrangements for his friends. They probably met sometime before 1875. Shy in his composing as well, he was often the brunt of Brahms' better-intended teasing. Living with his wife, mother and sisters, Brahms once joked that “Nazy really intended to write a [very simple and undramatic] modulation from F Major to B-flat Minor, but the whole family objected and so he gave it up.”

Anton Door: a pianist and friend of Joachim, he “encountered” Brahms in 1855, when Brahms was so nervous about an impending concert w/Joachim, Door noticed this “diminutive blond youth pacing back and forth in the shadows, nervously smoking one cigar after another.” Over the course of an hour Brahms never acknowledged the stranger's presence. “I was empty air to him.” Later they met again and became good friends.

Josef Gänsbacher: a music-loving lawyer and government official who wrote to Brahms in Hamburg in 1863 and offered him a job in Vienna conducting the “Singverein,” the city's premiere choral organization that, during its history, has featured in some major performances at the Musikverein with the Vienna Philharmonic. It was the reason Brahms could move to Vienna after having lost the Hamburg Philharmonic conducting post to his friend Julius Stockhausen, and make a living there without resorting to concertizing out of necessity.

Pianist Julius Epstein: one of the leading teachers in Vienna (Elisabeth von Herzogenberg had been one of his students). They'd met in 1862 when Brahms first began concertizing in Vienna, performances arranged through a Hamburg friend who knew Epstein and did the “networking.” Epstein's initial reaction to Brahms found him a “slight, quiet blond youth who played the piano with such authority, who appeared so certain of himself, who wrote things” – the G Minor Piano Quartet was one of the pieces Brahms performed then – “so manifestly fresh and vital.”

Standing directly behind Brahms, cellist Robert Hausmann joined Joseph Joachim's string quartet in 1879 and first played with Brahms at the piano in 1883. Three years later, he was the cellist Brahms wrote his 2nd Cello Sonata for, and gave it its premiere. More importantly, he was Joachim's partner for Brahms' Double Concerto written the following year. Hausmann also played in the premiere of several other of Brahms' works during this period, most notably the Op.111 Quintet (1890) and the Clarinet Trio (1892) with Mühlfeld. There is a series of photographs taken at the home of Richard and Maria Fellinger (see the next post) with Brahms and Hausmann. After Dvořák returned from America with his new Cello Concerto, it was Hausmann who read through it one evening with Brahms at the piano (probably at one of those many musical evenings at the Fellingers).

Then, on the far right, the last man standing is Eusebius Mandyczewski, a young music scholar born of Romanian heritage in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (his birthplace is now in Ukraine) who studied with Hanslick and Nottebohm, then met Brahms in 1879. He had just become the new director of the Singverein and eventually became, on Brahms' recommendation, the librarian for the famous Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (which sounds so much more imposing in German than saying “Society of Music-Lovers”). He was an editor involved with many of Brahms' publications and Brahms later would make him curator of his estate.

To be continued: Part Two of this post examines some other friends of Brahms, particularly the Fellingers, and include that famous audio recording made in the Fellinger's music room for Thomas Edison in 1889.

Dick Strawser

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Brahms Beyond Borders: Niels Gade in Denmark and Ernő Dohnányi in Hungary

(The final concert of Summermusic 2019's Brahms Beyond Borders takes place Wednesday evening at 7:30 (note the earlier time) at Market Square Church, and will feature two string sextets: one by the Danish Niels Gade at the height of his career, the other by a teenaged Ernő Dohnányi.)
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“You, Herr Doktor, are the greatest Schimpfoniker in the world!”

That's what one friend of Brahms, a theater critic visiting him during a summer holiday, told the composer, known for his put-downs and numerous, presumably unintentional social faux-pas that would put Sheldon Cooper to shame. It's essentially a pun on “Symphony-Composer” and the verb schimpfen, to insult, abuse, revile, affront, use bad language, or scold. As Max Kalbeck related it in his biography, Brahms roared with laughter.

Johannes Brahms may be regarded as one of the Great Composers – it was in 1877 his friend, conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, came up with the statement that lead to “The Three Bs” – but he had a reputation for being something of a jerk. And it's probably a good thing they didn't have Twitter in those days...

A case in point concerns the first composer on Summermusic 2019's last concert, this Wednesday at 7:30 at Market Square Church: Niels Gade, known as “The Danish Mendelssohn” or “The Mendelssohn of the North” (marketing slogans did not necessarily begin with Madison Avenue in the 1950s).

Brahms & Stockhausen (1870)
In 1868, Brahms had been visiting Hamburg in preparation for the premiere of A German Requiem in nearby Bremen, and with his old friend Julius Stockhausen, the baritone who was to be the Requiem's soloist, made a brief recital tour that took them to the Danish capital, Copenhagen. A series of concerts had been set up by an old friend of Robert and Clara Schumann's, composer Niels Gade who was regarded as the leading musician in Denmark at the time. The first concerts of their series had created a lot of enthusiasm and Gade hosted a grand party in Brahms' honor.

Brahms, a native of Hamburg and only recently transplanted to Vienna, remained a staunch German nationalist throughout his life and a keen supporter of the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck who would eventually bring about the unification of all those various German lands that for over a millennium had resisted forming itself into a German nation. In 1868, Denmark, an already tiny nation compared to the mighty state of Prussia, was still smarting from having lost its southern province, Schleswig-Holstein, to the invading forces of Prussia and their Austrian allies only four years earlier, following the second war over the territory in the past sixteen years.

Enter Brahms.

Talking to various well-placed admiring music lovers of the Danish capital and not a few important dignitaries, Brahms began professing his passionate support for Bismarck (whom the Danes saw as “The Enemy”) and apparently oblivious to their “open-mouthed” stupefaction at these remarks, went on to suggest (“perhaps playfully”) it was “really a shame the main museum for Thorwaldsen's sculpture” – a Danish sculptor who died in 1844 and was revered as a cultural hero – “was in Denmark rather than, say, Berlin.” Since the implication was, Berlin was clearly a superior artistic center than the Danish backwater of Copenhagen...

He was met by sustained and frigid silence. In a few minutes, he had extolled the virtues of their enemy and proposed kidnapping one of their artistic treasures. The response was an immediate scandal with “indignant” editorials in the kingdom's newspapers, even some satirical poems, resulting in the rest of their Danish tour being canceled and Brahms taking the first boat out of town back to Germany. It was years before anyone would perform Brahms' music anywhere in Denmark!

As if his own empathy wasn't already in question, he told a friend on his way back to Hamburg, “I've made so much money I won't need any more for a long time, so I couldn't care less.”

Gade first met the then 18-year-old Brahms in July of 1851, two years before he would meet the Schumanns. Back then, Brahms the Teenager had already written a lot of music, very little of which survives, and we know some piano pieces (including the E-flat Minor Scherzo, later published as his Op.4) as well as a piano trio and a duo for cello and piano that have not survived were on the program at a house-concert given at the home of some family friends in the Hamburg suburbs with their guest Niels Gade.

(In hindsight, it's curious to note, despite Gade's reputation and his friendship with the Schumanns, there was nothing forthcoming here to advance the young man's career or studies. Brahms' introduction to Robert Schumann was completely unsolicited or even forewarned: he simply showed up unannounced on their doorstep one September afternoon with a whole sheaf of manuscripts under his arm. The rest is history.)

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So, you might be wondering, considering some of the other names I've dropped – Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, all very familiar – just who is Niels Gade?

First of all, the music you'll hear on this program Wednesday night is not often played. It's is also “prime Gade,” composed when he was a well-established composer in his late-40s, around the same time he wrote his 7th Symphony. Listening to this symphony, which I'd not heard before posting this, I hear lots of Schumann from his “Rhenish” Symphony, premiered in 1851, but – dare I say it? – find Gade's more effortless and sincere, especially in the way he treats the orchestra (something that was always admittedly a struggle for Schumann).

The sextet is in the usual four movements, its very Mendelssohnian scherzo placed second for better contrast with the outer movements. If this music does remind you of Mendelssohn or Schumann, remember, he knew both of them personally when he lived in Leipzig in the 1840s and worked with Mendelssohn as his assistant conductor for a few years. I'm also pretty sure he'd have known first hand that glorious Octet of Mendelssohn's, no doubt one of the finest pieces ever written by a teenager. Conscious or not, not bad models for a composer to be influenced by.

This performance of the complete sextet is with a group calling itself the Baltic Neopolis Virtuosi.

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While I doubt the Danes would refer to Mendelssohn as “The Niels Gade of the South,” they remain proud of this leading composer of their 19th Century cultural history; and while many Americans would be hard-pressed to name a Danish composer beyond Carl Nielsen, hearing a little bit of Gade's music would be good for broadening our own Euro-centric awareness.

Born in Copenhagen in 1817 – sixteen years before Brahms – the son of an instrument maker and carpenter, Niels Gade studied the violin, became a member of the Royal Danish Orchestra, an institution proudly tracing its roots back to the court musicians of the mid-15th Century. Gade was 24 the year they gave him his first public performance, a symphonic poem, Echoes of Ossian, but when they turned down his 1st Symphony (called “On Sjøland's Fair Plains,” that may be because he uses a tune from a song by that title in its first movement, rather than its being descriptive of an area on the eastern shore of the Jutland peninsula just north of Schleswig-Holstein), the young composer sent it off to his idol Felix Mendelssohn, conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig (in what was then the Kingdom of Saxony). Mendelssohn was duly impressed and gave the work its premiere in 1843 when it received an enthusiastic reception.

Gade in 1844
Invited to Leipzig, Gade became Mendelssohn's assistant conductor and conducted the world premiere of Mendelssohn's new Violin Concerto. When Mendelssohn died in 1847 at the age of 38, Gade became his successor at the orchestra. Unfortunately, war between Prussia and Denmark broke out in 1848 – the first of those two wars over Schleswig-Holstein – and Gade could no longer remain in Leipzig, returning home to Copenhagen which completely changed the outlook of his career.

Instead, he started doing in Copenhagen what he might have done in Leipzig and politics not intervened: he founded a music society which included a new orchestra and chorus, one of the preeminent musical organizations in the country, and re-founded the old conservatory much in the vein of Mendelssohn's Gewandhaus school, becoming its director in 1867 (the year before Brahms' unfortunate visit). As a teacher, he gave considerable significant advice to an otherwise disillusioned young Norwegian would-be-pianist back from studies in Leipzig, Edvard Grieg, in 1863. In 1868, while vacationing in Denmark, Grieg wrote his Piano Concerto in A Minor which would raise him to super-stardom in the world of classical music.
Niels Gade in 1882
Gade also met Carl Nielsen in 1881 and paved the way for him to study music seriously at the conservatory. Though Nielsen didn't care for Gade's “old-fashioned” music – he was more inspired by the likes of Grieg and Brahms – he studied with Gade until graduating in 1886, eventually becoming Denmark's greatest composer in the early-20th Century: three of his works are officially listed by the Danish Government among the eighteen Most Important Works of Danish Music, compared to Gade's one. It's also interesting to point out, when Nielsen's Violin Concerto was premiered in 1911, the soloist was Niels Gade's son, Axel.

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And last, but (given the relatively obscure status of Gade and Goldmark with today's American audiences) not least, we come to the concluding work in this summer's series, “Brahms Beyond Borders.”

Young Dohnányi lighting up...
This is a string sextet composed by Ernő Dohnányi the year he turned 16. It was never published and is dismissed as “juvenalia” by Grove's Dictionary. Even what for Dohnányi must have been a significant encounter, his meeting Johannes Brahms in 1895 was also glossed over in Grove's biographical essay and, disappointingly, not mentioned in Jan Swafford's almost obsessively detailed biography of Brahms at all.

As with most composers, life does not begin at Op.1. With Beethoven, there's a whole treasure-trove of early unpublished works – those “WoO”-pieces (from “Werk ohne Opus”) – where we can see the teenaged Beethoven working hard to become the composer we recognize by the time he published his Piano Trios Op. 1 in 1795 at the ripe age of 24. And with Dohnányi, Grove's mentions (in parenthetical passing) “67 juvenalia works” written before that Op. 1 Piano Quintet which got Brahms' seal of approval. In fact, Brahms was so enthusiastic about the young Hungarian-born composer – he was not always so encouraging and more often far less supportive – he arranged for its premiere in Vienna.

And don't you think it's unlikely young Ernő showed up with only one piece in his folder? Consider the precedent of Dvořák practically flooding the committee for the Austrian State Prize in 1874 with some fifteen different works (which got more than Brahms' attention) or the 20-year-old Brahms showing up at Schumann's door, then playing through his armload of sonatas and scherzos, “veiled symphonies,” Schumann called them – writing in his journal that night, “Visit from Brahms (a genius).”

Whatever Brahms may have told young Dohnányi, there are two things to make note of: he revised the string sextet in 1896, and, in 1897, he petitioned the Royal Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest to take his senior exams a year early, receiving his Artist's Diploma in three rather than four years. From there, he went off to spend the summer studying with Eugen d'Albert and soon made his debut as a concert pianist in Berlin. So it's quite likely Brahms' reaction had a positive impact on the boy's future.

Dohnányi in 1905
While not likely to be hailed as a long-lost youthful masterpiece looking for its rightful place in the modern repertoire, it's intriguing to hear – again, thinking of some of Beethoven's WoO-Pieces – where the mature composer came from. And stylistically, there is a lot of Brahms' musical influence all over this piece, not surprisingly considering Brahms was, at the time, the Greatest Living [German] Composer in a country [Hungary] dominated by the German-speaking Austrian Empire (regardless of its officially being The Austro-Hungarian Empire).

There was no Hungarian “school of music” inspired by Hungarian folk music then – in the sense we think of it today, led by composers like Bartók and Kodály. In fact, there was very little awareness of what real Hungarian folk music was: to the world, Hungarian folk music meant the Gypsies who aren't ethnically Hungarian anyway. Yet largely through the gypsy-inspired music of the Hungarian-born Franz Liszt and his “Hungarian Rhapsodies” and the likes of Brahms' “Hungarian flavorings,”  this is what most music lovers still think of as “Hungarian folk music.”

Case in point: the opening measures of Dohnányi's Sextet. It's a motive that almost sounds like it's going to turn into a folk song but then, by the time it cadences, it's more like a folk-song transcribed and arranged by a German. Thirty seconds in, we're in Full Brahms Mode.

It's in the traditional four movements, recorded by the aptly named Budapest String Sextet:

1st Movement: Allegro ma tranquillo

2nd Movement: Scherzo: Allegro vivace

3rd Movement: Adagio quasi andante

4th Movement: Finale: Animato

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In an earlier post, I'd mentioned the confusion that exists in labeling composers born in various parts of this Austrian or Austro-Hungarian Empire as Hungarian or Czech or German. It's important to understand that to many Hungarians, the German-speaking Austrians were like an occupying army; and their enforcement of German as the official language, tantamount to cultural repression of their own culture. (This of course happens everywhere, it seems, in the different non-Russian parts of the old Soviet Union, or even with the English in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland over the centuries.) Many viewed basing your musical language on your own ethnic folk music as an act of resistance, just as speaking your native language in public might, at various times and places in history, have been illegal. Governments trying to "assimilate" minority populations often repressed the teaching of that language, history, and culture in schools, hoping, with time, it would die out.

And into this, Ernő Dohnányi is a case in point.

At the time of his birth, his hometown was part of Hungary (within this ethnic conglomeration of an empire) and called Pozsony which, to the Austrians, was officially Pressburg. After World War I, it became part of Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia) and then it was renamed Bratislava. All the same city.

His family styled its name according to German principles: he was born Ernst von Dohnányi (the “von” signifying an aristocratic background regardless of their current social or financial status, having been enobled in 1697). His music was published with his name in German, he continued using the German form even after he emigrated to the United States and on his tombstone he is Ernst von Dohnányi. His son, Hans [Johann] von Dohnányi, became a lawyer in Berlin before World War II but despite meeting Hitler and having a responsible position in the government's justice department, made connections with and worked for the Resistance. He and his wife were arrested after it was discovered he had transferred money to a Swiss account to help some of the Jews he had helped escape, and he was executed by the Nazis (hung, it is said, with piano wire...). Of his two sons, the composer's grandsons, one became the mayor of Hamburg, West Germany, in the 1980s, and the other, the famous conductor and former director of the Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi.

Dohnányi, Bartók, Kodály
Ernst von Dohnányi was not a political person, and he was often criticized (if not attacked) by both the Right and the Left. To Bartók, a fellow student at school in Budapest, Dohnányi was not Hungarian enough, even though he admitted (in 1923) the model for his first compositional efforts was Dohnányi's Brahms-approved Op. 1 Piano Quintet, before quickly “repudiating” the influence.

Of the three composers associated with “Hungarian Nationalism” in the 20th Century, Dohnányi made less use of ethnic Hungarian folk music in his works than did Bartók or Kodály: to many, he was neither Hungarian enough nor modern enough. He focused his energies on conducting, teaching, and in being the director of the Budapest Academy of Music after World War I when Hungary became independent in 1919, soon replaced by government officials when he refused to fire Professor Kodály for his leftist views, but then reappointed in 1934. As a conductor he championed Bartók's and Kodály's music as well as Leo Weiner's (especially daring, since Weiner was Jewish) and became celebrated as an interpreter of Beethoven. Before World War II, much of his energy was spent trying to counter the growing Nazi influence: he resigned his directorship and disbanded the Philharmonic rather than submit to the government's anti-Jewish legislation.
Dohnányi  & Bartók on a train, before World War II
But then he went to Austria before the end of the war which itself became a source of rumors he was a Nazi sympathizer, charges that could never be substantiated or defended. Kodály attested to Dohnányi having signed papers that saved the lives of numerous Jewish musicians in Budapest, allowing them to emigrate to Switzerland or the United States. He received similar support from several other Jewish musicians he had helped. After the war, before he was allowed to enter the United States himself, he was investigated numerous times by American military bureaucrats and cleared each time.

In 1949, then, he settled in Tallahassee where he taught at Florida State University, becoming an American citizen in 1955. He died in 1960, shortly after a recording session of some Beethoven Sonatas in New York City.

It is more common, now, to see his named styled in the Hungarian form as Ernő Dohnányi (dropping any claim to Austrian-based aristocracy as well).

Just as the argument “what makes an American composer American” can never be answered satisfactorily, does the use of Hungarian folk music (even if it's not really Hungarian) make one a Hungarian composer? Does that make Brahms a Hungarian composer because he used gypsy tunes and dances in some of his works (not to mention those wildly popular Hungarian Dances of his)? Does the fact Dohnányi wrote his “American Rhapsody” in Tallahassee in 1953, quoting the likes of “Turkey in the Straw,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” and “Poor Wayfarin' Stranger,” make him, officially, an American composer?

But then just quoting a bunch of tunes is not the same thing as basing your musical style on the essence of your own ethnicity's folk music, absorbing it into the very core of your musical voice – as many late-19th Century Russians did, as Smetana and Dvořák did, as Bartók and Kodály did. However, just because a young boy in Budapest was influenced by the great Brahms, whether or not it was because this was the “voice” of the official language and culture that politically dominated his country then, does not make him a German composer either.

– Dick Strawser