Category: Brahms

  • Composing Irony

    The round tune “Frère Jacques” (Brother John) is known across cultures and languages in Europe. In German, it’s called “Bruder Martin” or “Bruder Jakob.” In the third movement of his Symphony no. 1 in D minor, Gustav Mahler presents us with a sardonic, funeral-march like version of the song in minor. He was inspired by […]

  • Clara at 200

    A clever student-created animated bio, “The Wild Life of Clara Schumann.” Clara’s beautiful Lied “Beim Abschied.” The poem, by Friederike Serre, translated by Richard Stokes. On departing A purple glow shines from afar,Golden now the bright day sinks,One by one the silver starsAwaken in the skies.And the Queen of the DayBows her head and goes […]

  • Romantic Frenemies

    The conflict between Brahms and his posse, and Wagner and his, resulted in a “manifesto” written by Brahms and published in the Berliner Musik-Zeitung Echo in 1860: The undersigned have long followed with regret the proceedings of a certain party whose organ is Brendel’s Zeitschrift für Musik. The said Zeitschrift unceasingly promulgates the theory that the most […]

  • Sounding “White”

    Throughout 2018, the New York Times has been running a series of stories called “Overlooked,” which are the obituaries of notable women from the past who the paper declined to acknowledge at the time of their deaths. In August, the Times published an overdue obituary for Sissieretta Jones, the first black opera singer to appear at Carnegie […]

  • Night and Dreams

    Two Men Contemplating the Moon (Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1830). Words and images you will encounter over and over again in the Lieder of the Romantic era: night, dark, moon, dream — in German, Nacht, dunkel, Mond, Traum (German nouns are capitalized). Think of the thick, dark (dunkel), overgrown forests in which so many of the stories collected […]

  • Mountain Music

    The sound of the French horn provides one of the most emblematically Romantic timbres in nineteenth-century music. Why is that? The French horn derives its origin from the hunting horn (in German, waldhorn or forest horn) — a brass instrument played while hunting on horseback to call back the hounds from the hunt. Some horns, […]

  • Piping Down the Valleys Wild: Some Literary and Historical Sources

    The title page of Songs of Innocence (1793) by William Blake (1757-1827). You can view the entire 1793 edition and read commentary at the Tate Museum’s website. An 1802 poem along similar lines by William Wordsworth (1770-1850): My heart leaps up when I behold   A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life […]

  • Gypsy Kings

    The verbunkos, a Hungarian Roma dance. The musician is playing a gajda, a free-reed pipes made from goatskin (the goat’s head is still attached!). The third movement of Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major. The young Brahms first heard Roma music as a boy in Hamburg, which, as a major port on the North Sea, was a way-station […]

  • “Yes, Brahms is evil . . .”

    I do not know who wrote the short-lived and now-defunct-blog called Nihilism, Optimism, and Everything In Between. I found this piece a long time ago, and I’m very glad that the author hasn’t taken it down. It is about Brahms’s profoundly Romantic, deeply moving Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15: Brahms, you […]

  • Free, But Lonely

    (Joseph Joachim in 1868.) “Frei Aber Einsam” — Free but lonely — was the personal motto of Brahms’s best friend, the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. In 1853, for Joachim’s twenty-seconnd birthday, Robert Schumann, his composition student Albert Dietrich, and Brahms decided to collaborate on a present for their friend: a sonata for violin and piano […]