Johannes Brahms: A Biography by Jan Swafford - review by Jonathan Keates

Jonathan Keates

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Johannes Brahms: A Biography


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The traditional test for all biographical subjects is that of whether or not we should have wanted to sit down to dinner with them. Composers, it must be said, seldom score well on this one. Handel, for example, would probably have pinched most of the tastiest morsels for himself. Gruff, agoraphobic Verdi, absolutely refusing to discuss music, or Wagner, likely to go into a sulk if somebody else's opera were praised, might each have us asking for the bill before the entrée arrived. Bruckner would require in instruction as to the use of a knife and fork, while Elgar made sure you called him 'Sir Edward' loudly enough for the next table to hear. 

Should we have liked to join the elderly Johannes Brahms, during his last, heavily lionised Viennese decades, on his daily outings to the Zum roten Igel restaurant in the Wildpretmarkt, to sit in a curtained alcove with a dish of goulash and a beer? The answer must be a guarded

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