Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

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

Johannes Brahms grew up in Hamburg in poor conditions. Nevertheless, his parents tried to support the musical talent of their third child. In April 1853, the twenty-year-old went on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi to accompany him on the piano and through him also met Joseph Joachim, with whom he soon became friends. In Weimar, Joachim introduced him to Liszt and recommended him to call on Robert and Clara Schumann in Düsseldorf.

The couple welcomed him warmly, and especially Robert Schumann was enthusiastic about the young man’s compositions. Brahms spent four weeks in Düsseldorf and then left for Leipzig with a letter of recommendation from Schumann. After learning of Schumann’s suicide attempt, he rushed back to Düsseldorf and assisted Clara Schumann in the following two difficult years. He visited Schumann at the sanatorium, often accompanied by his friends Joachim and Albert Dietrich; he also took care of the household and the children when Clara, who had resumed her concert tours, was not at home. He gave piano lessons and composed and at the same time dismissed the admonishments of his mother to focus on his career. The devotion of Brahms towards Schumann and the love of his music was of great comfort to Clara. She herself wrote to her children about what Brahms had meant to her at that time: “[...] he strengthened my heart which threatened to break, he uplifted my spirit and amused my mind whenever he was able to, in short, he was a friend in the fullest sense of the word.]” An important part of this friendship was the fact that Clara was once again able to participate in the work of a musical genius, as had been the case with Schumann before.

She infinitely missed the exchange of views on music with her husband. Brahms and also 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 had undoubtedly been in love with Clara Schumann, but during a joint visit to Switzerland in the summer of 1856, they both decided to go their separate ways. Clara definitely had some motherly feelings for her young friend and supported him in both practical and financial matters, but even if his behaviour could sometimes become pretty rough, their friendship still overcame all upsets and misunderstandings.

Sometimes Brahms would suffer from the fact that he in fact belonged to the Schumann family but did not occupy a clear position, neither as a son nor a husband. This may have been one of the reasons for his roughness that could suddenly erupt and cause quite some trouble and disappointment to Clara and her children. A whole series of works by Brahms was premiered thanks to Clara Schumann and the pianist was always eager to receive the latest compositions of her friend and play them. If he sent them to other friends first, she would be upset. She would share her concerns with him and tell him about diseases, financial matters, concerts, and the children. Brahms died eleven months after Clara Schumann’s death.

(Julia M. Nauhaus, translated by Thomas Henninger)

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

cp. [ Johannes Brahms ]

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