A Brahms Reader

Michael Musgrave, Author Yale University Press $45 (362p) ISBN 978-0-300-06804-7
Of all the books about Brahms (1833-1897) that have appeared since the centenary of his death, none is more comprehensive than Musgrave's (The Music of Brahms). This reader, while not a chronological narrative, examines various letters and reminiscences of Brahms's contemporaries, organized into broad categories: Brahms the Man; Brahms the Composer; Brahms the Performer; Brahms the Scholar and Student of the Arts; The Social Brahms: Friendship and Travel; and Brahms in Perspective. Musgrave, a visiting professor of music at the University of London, places Brahms's obsession with Clara Schumann, wife of his mentor Robert Schumann, in the broader context of the composer's difficult relationship with women--and Brahms fans should be prepared for shocks. The social reformer Ethel Smyth wrote this about Brahms: ""If they [women] did not appeal to him he was incredibly awkward and ungracious; if they were pretty he had an unpleasant way of leaning back in his chair, pouting out his lips, stroking his mustache, and staring at them as a greedy boy stares at jam tartlets."" The book bursts with Brahms's feelings about life and art, and completing the picture are the opinions of close colleagues (Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim), composers who praised him (Schoenberg and Mahler) and those who condemned him (Wagner, Liszt and Tchaikovsky, the latter of whom wrote, ""I never could, and never can admire his music""). Brahms called his requiem A German Requiem rather than The German Requiem. It is tempting to suggest the opposite for the title of this all-encompassing book, which might have been called The Brahms Reader. 24 illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 344 pages - 978-0-300-09199-1
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