Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Johannes Brahms
[fig. 1]Johannes Brahms, drawing with silver point, Düsseldorf, fall 1853 (Stadtarchiv Bonn)

Johannes Brahms was raised in Hamburg under poor conditions. Nevertheless, his parents tried to support the musical talent of their third child. In April 1853, the 20 year old went on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi and performed as his piano accompanist. There he made acquaintance with Joseph Joachim, with whom he soon became friends. Joachim introduced him to Liszt in Weimar and recommended to call on Robert and Clara Schumann in Dusseldorf.

The couple welcomed him warmly, and especially Robert Schumann was enthusiastic about the young man's compositions. Brahms spent four weeks in Düsseldorf and left for Leipzig with a recommendation letter of Schumann. After he heard of Schumann's suicide attempt, he came back to Düsseldorf and helped Clara Schumann in the following two difficult years. He visited Schumann in the hospital, often accompanied by the friends Joachim and Albert Dietrich. He took care of the household and the children, when Clara, due to the continuation of her concert traveling, was not at home. He gave piano lessons and composed and discarded the admonishments of his mother to focus on his career. The devotion of Brahms towards Schumann and the commitment to his music was great comfort for Clara. She wrote to her children about what Brahms meant to her at this time: "[...] he strengthened the heart that threatened to break, he lifted my spirit, amused whenever he could, my mind, and he was my friend in the entire sense of the word." An important part of this friendship was the fact that Clara was once again able to participate in the producing of a musical genius, as it had been Schumann before.

The exchange of music with her husband lacked endlessly. Brahms and Joachim in a way offered some substitute for the artistic inspiration that Clara had enjoyed and was used to since her earliest youth. The fact that both of them loved Schumann’s music was an important bond between them and Clara. She trusted Brahms more than anyone else. Initially Brahms was undoubtedly in love with Clara Schumann, but during a joint visit to Switzerland in the summer of 1856 both decided to go their separate ways. Clara thoroughly had motherly feelings for the young friend and supported him in both practical and financial matters. And even if his behavior could sometimes be very harsh, this friendship overcame all upsets and misunderstandings.

Sometimes Brahms suffered from the fact that he in fact belonged to the Schumann family, but did not have a clear position. He was neither son nor husband. This may be one of the reasons for his sometimes once in a while appearing harshness that sometimes troubled Clara and her children. Owing to Clara Schumann, a whole series of works by Brahms was premiered and the pianist was always eager to receive the latest compositions of her friend to play them. When he sent them to other friends first, she was upset. She shared her concerns with him and told him about diseases, financial matters, concerts and the children. 11 months after the death of Clara Schumann also Brahms died.


(Julia M. Nauhaus)

Johannes Brahms
[fig. 2] Johannes Brahms, wood engraving on a drawing around 1865 (StadtMuseum Bonn)

cp. [ Johannes Brahms ]

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