Author Topic: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)  (Read 243608 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Biffo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2979
  • Location: United Kingdom
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1080 on: September 27, 2020, 11:36:20 PM »
That Swafford bio is one of the best composer biographies ever, - long as it is, my attention and enthusiasm never once wavered.  And nice to see someone mentioning Richard Leonard's masterful collection of shorter composer bios, "The Stream of Music" that has never been bettered, - a true literary feast and utterly engrossing.

I have just finished reading Swafford's biog of Beethoven. It was a long haul, partly because I kept stopping to listen to the works under discussion. In the end it was worth the effort. Perhaps I should now move onto Brahms.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3519
  • Location: Chicagoland
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1081 on: September 28, 2020, 08:45:19 AM »
That Swafford bio is one of the best composer biographies ever, - long as it is, my attention and enthusiasm never once wavered.  And nice to see someone mentioning Richard Leonard's masterful collection of shorter composer bios, "The Stream of Music" that has never been bettered, - a true literary feast and utterly engrossing.

I've read and enjoyed the Swafford bio, but I'm not sure how up-to-date it is in terms of scholarship. Supposedly a point of contention in Brahms scholarship is the "poverty myth" (that he grew up dirt poor and had to play the piano in brothels, thereby stunting his emotional growth). Swafford swallows it whole, but there are a lot of conflicting views.

Here's a detailed refutation of the related notion that Brahms was a misogynist. I can't vouch for all of this, but it makes for interesting reading:

http://forallevents.info/reviews/was-brahms-really-a-misogynist/

formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Scion7

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2423
  • A vajda az én dolgom, és az üzlet jó.
  • Location: Borgó Pass
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1082 on: September 28, 2020, 02:19:26 PM »
Only by people who call Brahms a liar.
Out of his own mouth - and sometimes violently - he told of his childhood - that it was a large family and that the income that came from the young Brahms from dock-bars was needed is absolutely without question.  His inability to continue healthy romantic relationships stem from that period in his life, being exposed to prostitutes 'affections' and who knows what else from rough sailors.  Just because a book is newer doesn't mean that it is better.  The story of Brahms' life has been stable for at least half a century now.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2020, 04:38:31 AM by Scion7 »
The Germans, who make doctrines out of everything, deal with music learnedly; the Italians, being voluptuous, seek in it lively, though fleeting, sensations; the French, more vain than perceptive, manage to speak of it wittily; and the English pay for it . . . - Stendhal

Offline J

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 268
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1083 on: September 28, 2020, 04:29:29 PM »
I have just finished reading Swafford's biog of Beethoven. It was a long haul, partly because I kept stopping to listen to the works under discussion. In the end it was worth the effort. Perhaps I should now move onto Brahms.

I found Swafford's Beethoven bio a comparative letdown vis-a-vis his book about Brahms, I think largely because the source material for Brahms inner and outer life is so much more abundant, and thus makes for a  richer, more varied, and more nuanced character in the hands of a skilled writer and researcher than Beethoven does.

The more material, the more opportunity for alternative perspectives and interpretations, of course, but I can't admit to reading any other book length biographies beyond Swafford and the older and more compact one by Walter Niemann, so don't very well know where the controversies might lie, beyond the perennial (as between Johannes & Clara)
"did they or didn't they?" - which question might never be confidently answered.

« Last Edit: September 29, 2020, 04:04:28 AM by J »

Offline Herman

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2832
  • there's something wrong with my brain
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1084 on: September 29, 2020, 11:06:20 PM »
the perennial (as between Johannes & Clara)
"did they or didn't they?" - which question might never be confidently answered.

And the next question is "Is this a really interesting question?"

But if you need to think about it: here is a woman who has lived a very taxing life with a husband who's both very needy and often drunk. She has borne him eight children.

She really had wanted to be a concert pianist.

So... in her late middle age, would banging yet another composer be her nr 1 priority?

Offline Madiel

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 11008
    • A musical diary
  • Location: Canberra, Australia
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever's listed in my blog.
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1085 on: September 30, 2020, 03:51:24 AM »
She was a concert pianist.
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline Jo498

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 5606
  • Location: Germany
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1086 on: September 30, 2020, 04:39:20 AM »
And even if it turned out a difficult marriage she apparently was also very much in love with and devoted to Schumann. As for Brahms I have not read Stafford's biography and not the whole text linked above but I find this obsession with artist's sex lives repulsive and quaint. I'd have thought that this pseudo-Freudian stuff was past its sell by date since the 1970s or so.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3519
  • Location: Chicagoland
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1087 on: September 30, 2020, 06:39:53 AM »
As for Brahms I have not read Stafford's biography and not the whole text linked above but I find this obsession with artist's sex lives repulsive and quaint. I'd have thought that this pseudo-Freudian stuff was past its sell by date since the 1970s or so.

In general, I think it's justified to the extent it gives us a more complete picture of the subject, and relates the artist to their work. Otherwise, it's about as relevant as knowing how many times they went to the bathroom in an average day, or whether they preferred eggs scrambled or fried.

I agree about the "pseudo-Freudian stuff," which implies that we can reliably read the minds and feelings of long-dead people.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Florestan

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 22748
  • Location: Bucharest, Romania
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1088 on: September 30, 2020, 06:53:16 AM »
In general, I think it's justified to the extent it gives us a more complete picture of the subject, and relates the artist to their work.

Do you imply that an artist's work bear any relation to the frequency and nature of their sexual encounters?
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3519
  • Location: Chicagoland
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1089 on: September 30, 2020, 07:15:10 AM »
Do you imply that an artist's work bear any relation to the frequency and nature of their sexual encounters?

That's not really what I was thinking of. An example I had in mind was Berg's Lyric Suite, which is (at least on one level) a coded work that refers to the composer's affair with a certain woman. You won't understand the origins of the piece if you don't know about the affair.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Florestan

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 22748
  • Location: Bucharest, Romania
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1090 on: September 30, 2020, 07:19:09 AM »
That's not really what I was thinking of. An example I had in mind was Berg's Lyric Suite, which is (at least on one level) a coded work that refers to the composer's affair with a certain woman. You won't understand the origins of the piece if you don't know about the affair.

Ah, ok, I misunderstood you. That makes sense. Schumann's work, especially the piano music, is possibly the most extreme case of such coded allusions.

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline Jo498

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 5606
  • Location: Germany
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1091 on: September 30, 2020, 07:20:46 AM »
That pseudo-Freudian tradition has both sides: Sexuality (especially if somehow repressed or deviant) influences peoples lives and works very strongly and  in the next step one takes these hypothetical theories about inclinations, emotions, repressions etc. as an interpretive framework for the "meaning" of the artworks.  Coming full circle the character of the works can then corroborate the character (mostly defined by Freud-style repression and transferrals and whatnot) of the artist or that particular hypothesis). I don't claim that it is always total bs, there can be some such relations. But it was used in an exaggerated, almost comical way, even when real psychology had mostly got rid of Freudianism.

An example like the Lyric Suite is far more specific and not based on that quasi-Freudian speculation. And Schumann and Brahms did use similar codes, e.g. the ABEGG variations, Carnaval by Schumann, or Brahms a-g-a-(t)-h-e in one of the sextets (for Agathe von Siebold).
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline J

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 268
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1092 on: September 30, 2020, 06:10:13 PM »
And the next question is "Is this a really interesting question?"

But if you need to think about it: here is a woman who has lived a very taxing life with a husband who's both very needy and often drunk. She has borne him eight children.

She really had wanted to be a concert pianist.

So... in her late middle age, would banging yet another composer be her nr 1 priority?

I think the way YOU frame things truly DOES make it uninteresting.  But your sort of prurience isn't what I had in mind by asking.

If Clara and Brahms were lovers it would be hugely significant in understanding their relationship, so crucial to understanding Brahms himself.  You think it's been only the "tabloid minset" that's been interested in posing and delving into this question and it's ramifications?

Offline amw

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 4908
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1093 on: September 30, 2020, 06:30:21 PM »
I actually don't see how it would be particularly significant—they clearly had a lifelong, deep and abiding relationship and acted as the primary influences on one another (musical or otherwise), I don't see how anything changes very much if that relationship was romantic instead of platonic. It doesn't make it deeper or more significant. That seems to be a twenty-first-century mindset that views romantic relationships as the ne plus ultra and any other kind of relationship as necessarily less intimate and personal, which is very different from the conception of relationships that Brahms & Schumann would have grown up with.

Offline Florestan

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 22748
  • Location: Bucharest, Romania
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1094 on: October 01, 2020, 12:07:53 AM »
I actually don't see how it would be particularly significant—they clearly had a lifelong, deep and abiding relationship and acted as the primary influences on one another (musical or otherwise), I don't see how anything changes very much if that relationship was romantic instead of platonic. It doesn't make it deeper or more significant. That seems to be a twenty-first-century mindset that views romantic relationships as the ne plus ultra and any other kind of relationship as necessarily less intimate and personal, which is very different from the conception of relationships that Brahms & Schumann would have grown up with.

Very well said.
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline J

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 268
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1095 on: October 03, 2020, 01:55:06 AM »
Very well said.

"Well said", yes, - but not necessarily valid because of that.

What "conception of relationships" did Brahms and (Clara) Schumann grow up with, I'd like to ask Florestan.

Offline Jo498

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 5606
  • Location: Germany
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1096 on: October 03, 2020, 02:59:01 AM »
Partly because of stricter sexual mores former times often had considerably more intimate non-sexual friendships. These were usually same-sex friends but also platonic relationsships between men and women.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Madiel

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 11008
    • A musical diary
  • Location: Canberra, Australia
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever's listed in my blog.
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1097 on: October 03, 2020, 04:31:05 AM »
The idea that your entire life should be wrapped up in your sexual partner is in fact a very modern one, built on notions of love being all-consuming.

And in fact, it's considered to be a significant factor in the much higher modern divorce rate. People are dissatisfied with their marriages partly because they've been sold a belief that a marriage should fulfil all of their needs. Modern folk have higher expectations and it's those higher expectations that are being disappointed.

So yes, a couple of people in the 19th century definitely did not have the same ideas about relationships that exist nowadays. As Jo says, people had considerably more intimate friendships. Fulfilling your emotional needs with a range of people, without having sex with them, was normal. It ought to be normal now, rather than placing all of the emotional burdens on one person in your life.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2020, 04:33:15 AM by Madiel »
I am now working on a discography of the works of Vagn Holmboe. Please visit and also contribute!

Offline Florestan

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 22748
  • Location: Bucharest, Romania
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1098 on: October 04, 2020, 04:48:41 AM »
Partly because of stricter sexual mores former times often had considerably more intimate non-sexual friendships. These were usually same-sex friends but also platonic relationsships between men and women.

This.

The idea that your entire life should be wrapped up in your sexual partner is in fact a very modern one, built on notions of love being all-consuming.

And in fact, it's considered to be a significant factor in the much higher modern divorce rate. People are dissatisfied with their marriages partly because they've been sold a belief that a marriage should fulfil all of their needs. Modern folk have higher expectations and it's those higher expectations that are being disappointed.

So yes, a couple of people in the 19th century definitely did not have the same ideas about relationships that exist nowadays. As Jo says, people had considerably more intimate friendships. Fulfilling your emotional needs with a range of people, without having sex with them, was normal. It ought to be normal now, rather than placing all of the emotional burdens on one person in your life.

And this.

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

Offline Old San Antone

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 389
  • Location: USA
Re: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
« Reply #1099 on: October 04, 2020, 05:42:51 AM »
And even if it turned out a difficult marriage she apparently was also very much in love with and devoted to Schumann. As for Brahms I have not read Stafford's biography and not the whole text linked above but I find this obsession with artist's sex lives repulsive and quaint. I'd have thought that this pseudo-Freudian stuff was past its sell by date since the 1970s or so.

I have read Stafford's biography, but must have skimmed over sections not about the music.  I fail to see the importance of any kind of romantic relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann.  Other than as it pertains to their musical interaction, I couldn't care less about their personal relationship.

Which is how I feel regarding all composers and artists in general.