Bittersweet symphonies | Music | The Guardian
The relationship between the pianist and composer Clara Schumann and the composers Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms has for a century been an. However we will never be completely sure, since they destroyed most of their letters to each other. Robert Schumann was one of Brahms' best friends, as was. Brahms's affair with Clara Schumann was a sizzling mess that left his life lives they would maintain their strange but inescapable connection.
In Robert Schumann assembled and published a collection of small pieces written during the tumultuous years of his courtship with Clara. She is found in all manners of musical quotations, dedications, allusion, and outbursts of lyricism or effusiveness. You have created an atmosphere of spring; I can see golden blossoms peeping forth all around me.
In other words, your letters started me on composing, and I feel as if I should never stop.
Here is my little Christmas gift. You will grasp its significance. InClara set to work and composed her own set of variations on this particular theme by Robert.
The mournful theme is followed by seven variations, with the last variation heavily laden with musical and extra-musical meaning. Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op.
He has interwoven my old theme with yours. I can already see you smile. In those years Brahms was slim, beardless and drop-dead handsome. Gossip was sizzling in musical circles. Clara was yearning mightily, too, but as with Brahms her feelings were tangled up with anxiety and guilt.
Robert and Clara had been, after all, the supreme musical romance of the Romantic period. Clara was the love of Robert's life, his prime musical champion, the heroic force that had held together his splintering mind longer than anyone could have imagined.
After a protracted decline, Robert died inwhereupon Brahms and Clara were free to declare their passion, to marry. The couple went on holiday to Switzerland to sort it all out.
Brahms writing to Clara Schumann
Exactly what he said to her we will never know, but it amounted to this: I'm off to Hamburg. Write if you get work. Clara put him on the train, staggered home, and told her journal: Clara took up her performing career with a vengeance; it was her solace and, she would tell Brahms, "the very breath of my body".
There are more ironies in this first and greatest, if not precisely last, love of Brahms's life. If he would not marry Clara, neither would he marry anybody else - in his heart he could never leave Clara, nor she him. For the rest of their lives they would maintain their strange but inescapable connection. They spent holidays together.
They hugged and kissed. Their love may never have been consummated. This may seem absurd. But these were different times: Proper women shunned affairs. In later years Brahms told an acquaintance that he had never compromised a respectable woman, and for him the definition of a respectable woman was Clara.
He once described the aged Clara to a friend thus: Brahms was famously devoted to prostitutes; for his purposes, he seemed to relegate sex to the professional variety.
During their marriage Clara and Robert had maintained a kind of shorthand sexual diary, for medical reasons, which revealed that they were startlingly active throughout.
Recall the seven children. And some years later Clara had a brief, unhappy affair with Theodor Kirchner, one of Brahms's best friends. The latter business did not emerge until recent years, and as far as we know Brahms never suspected. At one point he wrote to Clara that Kirchner was talking about killing himself. Never mind, Clara replied, he says that all the time.
We may presume this was after the affair. In short, it was all a splendid mess. What seems to have motivated the rest of Brahms's life, romantic and otherwise, was no more mess. He kept to a life of composing and performing, fought with his friends, tried with imperfect success to keep women at bay, and fled real-life drama whenever it appeared.
But the real mess, and a big one, lay inside Brahms himself, in his relations to women and to emotional life in general.
Brahms writing to Clara Schumann - Heart-breaking quotations from the great - Classic FM
The chaos, the divided nature, likely started at a vulnerable time. At age 13, Brahms was already a phenomenon, with his teachers predicting great things. His parents were supportive, but they were also limited and naive.
At some point money was short, so the boy was sent to earn his keep playing piano in some waterfront establishments where his father had worked in his own youth. Maybe these places had been something of a lark to the father.
They were not to Brahms.