Johannes Brahms by Ivor Keys - review by David Whittle

David Whittle

Brahms and the Women

Johannes Brahms


Christopher Helm 320pp £18.95) order from our bookshop

In a century when the wayward lives and deaths of composers often overshadowed their works, Brahms was one of the quiet men. His life seems curiously uneventful in comparison with, say, the flamboyance of Liszt or the shameless excesses of Wagner, yet this means that his works are left unhindered to speak for themselves. At a time when many composers were favouring specialisation in particular genres, his compositions in almost all musical forms except opera leave him as one of the true masters of the late nineteenth century.

Perhaps it is because Brahms wrote in so many genres and did not complete a symphony until well into middle-age that his early life seems to be made up of bits and pieces. It is not Professor Keys’s fault (despite his lively and entertaining narrative) that his subject did very little except write and travel around Europe giving concerts. His early promise as a pianist and composer in Hamburg soon developed into solid achievement and increasing fame, and this led to him settling in Vienna (although he was constantly touring here and there).

The ambiguous relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann after her husband’s death in 1856 has long entertained the gossips. In the early days she writes ‘I love him like a son’, whilst Brahms himself declares that he can no longer love unmarried girls: ‘They but promise heaven while Clara shows

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