cover image The Compleat Brahms: A Guide to the Musical Works of Johannes Brahms

The Compleat Brahms: A Guide to the Musical Works of Johannes Brahms

. W. W. Norton & Company, $35 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04708-0

Botstein, president of Bard College and director of the American Symphony Orchestra, presents this helpful and user-friendly compendium as the ""first and only annotated catalog of Brahms' music in English."" Essays by such scholars as Walter Frisch and Michael Musgrave (whose Cambridge Companion to Brahms is forthcoming) are gathered into chapters on Orchestral Music, Chamber Music, Solo Piano Music, Solo Lieder and Vocal and Choral Music. Botstein himself, who writes on many vocal works, has a welcome tendency toward brevity, and never goes on too long about minor works or even major ones. All the essays are anchored in the composer's life, revealing such matters as his relations with Robert and Clara Schumann as well as other still-debated details of his love life. Some of the more outstanding essays in this vein are by Jan Swafford, author of Johannes Brahms: A Biography, who introduces the ""Alto Rhapsody"" in a way guaranteed to appeal even to those who consider Brahms to be merely ""Gloomy Joe,"" as the EMI record producer Walter Legge used to sarcastically refer to him, adding: ""The main problem with Brahms is that he never got syphilis."" By contrast, the book's writers' are all Brahms enthusiasts, and their excitement is infectious, in good part because the essays are not permitted to go on to Brahmsian lengths. Botstein has compiled a valuable, welcome addition to the bibliography. (Mar.)