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Clara Schumann to Brahms, 17 April 1864

October 10, 2010

CLARA to Brahms.

Moscow, 17-24 April [1864]


…One sees nothing but populace all round, dirty ragged men and women, and what one hears about their habits really makes one shudder. The civilisation of the people is on a much lower plane that we outside Russia have any idea of. And yet with the suppression of serfdom things are already beginning to improve. At least the people are beginning to think for themselves and to learn a few things – in short to be more human. It is only here in the provinces that one can form any idea of the tremendous changes that have been inaugurated by the present Tsar. He is really admirable, for, in my opinion, more courage is required for such reforms than any general would need on the field of battle.

For the time being at least the nobility are completely overthrown, which of course makes a good deal of difference to foreign artists. And yet, in spite of it all, I can assure you that I am quite satisfied. From the very start I made up my mind not to expect too much, and now I find I have achieved more than I anticipated; for in Germany with the same expenditure of energy I should not have earned so much in three months.

My concert at the theatre, about which I wrote to you so apprehensively the other day, brought me in a sum of 800 roubles [£86.18. 0] after all expenses, amounting to 700 roubles [£75.12. 0], had been deducted. And at my farewell soirée, which was held in a small hall, I cleared another 700 roubles, and the hall was so packed that a great many people had to be turned away. They are trying to persuade me to give another soirée on my return to St. Petersburg from here. But I don’t suppose I shall do so. It is better to end up on the brilliant success I have had. The reasons for my still being here are partly good and partly bad. the very day after my concert in the theatre in St. Petersburg I fell seriously ill and lost almost three weeks. I was still ill when I came here, but this place soon helped me recover, for the climate, the water and the air are better here than in St. Petersburg. Moreover, I am living with a nice family, half German in nationality, who look after me so kindly that nothing could be wanting to my happiness if I were not so frantically homesick. You cannot manage what struggles I have had in my heart which almost bursts with longing. But if I had left before this I should only have achieved half of what I can achieve. I gave three chamber concerts. Then came Easter in between, during which no concerts can be given for ten days. I shall have to wait for this to be over in order to give another concert on the 4th of May (German calendar). After that, on the 6th I am engaged at a subscription concert (for Robert’s concerto); I shall play again on the 8th before the Grand-Duchess Helene who is expected next week, and hope to leave St. Petersburg on the 9th.

A day or two ago I had the surprise of receiving a deputation from the orchestra offering me their services gratis at my concert. This really moved me very much indeed. Such a thing has never happened to me in Germany. But if you ask me what other artistic pleasures I have had, I must answer – none. I have come across nobody who is heart and soul an artist. They treat everything quite superficially, the good with the bad, nothing moves them deeply, and of reverence they know nothing. I have often felt sad for days about it. I shall tell you about Rubinstein one day. I cannot exclude him from what I have said above, for, as a Conductor, his attitude to music is just what one would expect from him as a composer. What he lacks above all is sacred seriousness, and one feels this in his compositions and in his way of conducting and playing. But you are right, as a man he has rare qualities, and were it not for his incessant and really feverish restlessness, one could gain much from him. I have heard the piano quartet, and I must confess that it interested me more than anything I have ever heard of his. There are a lot of fine things in it. One even notices, particularly in the first movement, how much pains he has taken. But in the last he gets so wild again that it is terrible. The scherzo struck me as exquisite, but the motifs all through are insignificant…With most affectionate greetings, dear Johannes, and hoping that this year and all that follow may be prosperous for you, Your CLARA.

Litzmann, Berthold, Ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms 1853-1896, Vol. I, Edward Arnold & Co. 1927, pp.167-169.

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

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