Johannes Brahms

Brahms meets the already famous violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom he establishes a long life friendship. Brahms even lets Joaquim write the cadenza (the improvised part) of his Violin Concerto. Some composers were not too keen on letting others touch their work, certainly Beethoven was not a fan of letting people mess up with his music.

Brahms meets Liszt, the living legend, one of the icons of programmatic music (music that tries to narrate a story by blending with other art forms, something like the 19th century version of multimedia). Every composer at that time wanted to be under Liszt’s umbrella, except for Brahms, who could not care less for programmatic music (and has the nerve to let Liszt know this). Brahms is criticized and disliked by the “avant garde” of his time, like Wagner or Tchaikovsky, for being too conservative.

Brahms meets the Schumman’s, who try to help him. Robert Schumann praises Brahms as the successor of Beethoven – a strange compliment, as it puts him under a lot of pressure. Brahms falls in love with the beautiful and hyper talented Clara Schumann (14 years older than him) and even moves to her building after the death of Robert Schumann. Most likely (though nobody knows for sure) nothing happened between them, as Brahms was extremely good at falling in love, but had no idea as to what to do afterwards.

Brahms meets Death, the Destroyer of delights and the Divider of man’s days. Not too long before that, he decides to destroy a huge amount of his unpublished works.

Maybe I should mention that one of the few poems (if not the only one) that Jorge Luis Borges has ever dedicated to a musician was dedicated to Brahms:

To Johannes Brahms

A mere intruder in the lavish gardens
You planted in the plural memory
Of times to come, I tried to sing the bliss
Your violins erect into the blue.
But now I’ve given up. To honor you.
That misery which people give the empty
Name of art does not suffice.
Whomever would honor you must be bright and brave.
I am a coward. I am a sad man. Nothing.
Can justify this audacity
Of singing the magnificent happiness
–Fire and crystal–of your soul in love.
My servitude is in the impure word,
Offspring of a concept and a sound;
No symbol, not a mirror, not a moan,
Yours is the river that flows and endures.

(from Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems, Vol 2.)


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