Johannes Brahms

Styra Avins, Editor, Johannes Brahms, Author, Josef Eisinger, Translator Oxford University Press, USA $150 (912p) ISBN 978-0-19-816234-6
""There is one thing that makes this letter, as every other hopeless for me: I have no patience for writing,"" Brahms wrote after an angry Clara Schumann took him to task after one famous patronizing letter. Even the most ardent fan of Brahms's music would find it difficult to argue that the great composer's gifts extended to words--which explains why he tried to destroy so many of them before his death. He was a very tedious writer, which is proved once again by this massive annotated collection of letters translated by Drew University professor of music history Avins and her husband Eisinger. When writing to family members and his great friends Joseph Joachim and Theodor Billroth (the Billroth-Brahms letters have already been published), Brahms penned letters in haste, peppering them with elephantine jokes and whatever cliche was at hand: when he first heard a phonograph in 1889, all he could say was that it was like ""living in a fairy-tale."" Even more singular messages, like his outraged letter to his publishers, Breitkopf and Hartel, and the groveling note to Ludwig II of Bavaria, show him to be an awkward stylist at best. The problem is compounded by awkward, inverted Germanic syntax here: ""Friendship and love I want to breathe"" or ""the Composer's Heaven you won't get into."" But the editors do offer copious helpful annotations, a useful 30-page section of biographical information, a lengthy essay on the composer's relationship with Clara Schumann and an index by correspondent. While this is not the ""first-ever English-language collection of Brahms's letters,"" as the publisher claims, it is undoubtedly the longest, which with Brahms is a double-edged sword. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 02/16/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 912 pages - 978-0-19-924773-8
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