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Clara Schumann to Brahms, 3 May 1859

October 14, 2010

CLARA to Brahms.

London, May 3. [1859]

I wanted to write to you directly after the Philharmonic Concert yesterday, but I was so tired that the pen almost fell from my hands.  I had been listening to the Concerto [Joachim’s Hungarian Concerto, Op. 11] with the very closest attention, the more so as I was unable to hear the rehearsal, for which I had hurried here, the reason being that owing to the latest regulations no one is allowed to be present at rehearsals.  You can imagine how hard this was for me in my position.  So, after hearing it only once you cannot expect any considered opinion from me, all I can say is that in parts it delighted me, while in others I found it uninspiring, particularly through the frequently overloaded instrumentation, which often makes it heavy, although in its essence it is not so.  Then a good deal of it seems to me Wagnerian, which displeases me somewhat.  I think the motifs throughout, though, are wonderfully beautiful.  The developments, particularly in the last movement, are extremely interesting and contain remarkable harmonic turns, as for instance at the return to the theme; and the whole thing is so homogeneous.  The adagio (which you surely know?) is exquisitely profound, except that at the end the horns and clarinets repeat the theme a little bit heavily, which spoils the soft feeling.  The other movement, however, is very long, and one is conscious of it, which ought not to be so.  If only I could just have a look at the score many things would become clearer to me.  But one ought to hear such an important piece again and again to be able to form a judgment of it.  Moreover, it was not too well accompanied.  In view of its great difficulties, it had not been sufficiently practised.

Of course the audience did not understand it, but what pained me was that they let him feel it, although not with actual hisses.  But after all it will not have hurt him too much, because he knows what he wants.  In fact I have just heard from him that he was glad the audience listened so quietly – I did not have a chance to speak to him again after it.  I wish I could write to you more satisfactorily about it, but you yourself will be seeing it ton and when you do your two eyes will tell you more than I could hear with twenty ears…The only other thing I can tell you about to-day is Joachim’s first Beethoven evening which was quite wonderful.  I have never heard such a quartet, although the others, in spite of all kinds of virtuosity, were miles behind him.  With one single stroke straight from his soul, he beats them all.  The only thing was that three difficult quartets like Op. 127, 95 and – were too much, all one after the other, and it was only his playing that made me endure it…I enclose the flowers as a time-honoured form of greeting.


Litzmann, Berthold, Ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms 1853-1896, Vol. I, Edward Arnold & Co. 1927, pp. 101-102.

Clara Schumann

Clara Schumann

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  1. Homeschool Ninja

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