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Brahms to Clara Schumann, Sept 1868

April 8, 2012


BRAHMS to CLARA.                                                           


I cannot get the matter out of my head, dear Clara.  I should like to answer your letter, which certainly contained many hard things, without any anger, and quietly survey such ruins of the temple of my friendship as still remain standing without disturbing them.  But I cannot.  My ill-fated letter keeps running in my mind.  Let me say quite briefly that I have thoroughly understood what you write about your interest in my art.  But it seems impossible that you should not have felt how willingly one would do without this kind of interest.  I speak through my music.  The only thing is that a poor musician like myself would like to believe that he was better than his music.

You refer to my moods in Baden.  Here again there is no matter for dispute, each of us has an opinion and insists on being right.  I too had reason to complain that I had not been as successful as usual in my endeavour to win sympathy in your house.  It always seemed to me as if I had first to overcome some obstacle.  But I cannot get my letter out of my mind.  I see it as a great wall standing between us.  Again and again I should like to run my head against it, although I know that it would be no good.  I cannot hope to convince you.  But just read what I am writing now and later on perhaps, much later on, you will think more kindly and leniently about me.  In any case the thought will occur to you – he is the only one with whom I have had to be angry in regard to such a matter.  There is certainly one thing that should have prevented me from writing this letter, as it should every letter – I have no patience for writing.  You were always aware of this failing in me, and surely I have the right to expect the same or even more indulgence from you now than before.  But what else have I done?  I never gave expression to any doubts about your art or repeated anything others had said.  All I did was to utter a few words of truth by way of warning and to beg you to think over them and to turn them to account.

For the matter – no, but, for the manner, a good friend can surely expect to be treated with indulgence and be forgiven.  I acknowledge that I may have spoken those words of truth perhaps at the wrong time, and perhaps in the wrong way.  What I chiefly wished to imply was – if your circumstances force you to do what you are doing then my letter was to be regarded as not having been written, and I had no right to question anything.  In every respect I may have made the biggest blunders – in my whole grasp of the question.  But I have often heard you discuss such matters and in doing so mention such names as Garcia, Rettig, and in another connection Fichtner, etc.  I may be mistaken as far as you are concerned, but I expressed no personal opinion nor did I listen to anybody else’s views.  I simply called your attention to yourself, not so much to your own feelings and habits as to your general experience of others.  Time may show that I have been mistaken.  I ought to have written in the autumn instead of in the spring.  But even now I should have some difficulty in finding an opportune moment for such an admonition.  I might have written in 1878 instead of in 1868.  But in any case my reminder ought to have come before the need for it arose, and the mistake about the year and the day does not seem to me now to be very serious.  In regard to myself my judgment may err.  I thought that one readily allowed a good friend to say things for which an outsider would be turned away.

So please forgive this friend for his overdose of truth.  All he did was to inform you of a perfectly familiar universal fact, to use as you liked.  He said nothing harsh to you and, moreover, neither obtained secretly nor did he repeat to you any gossip from others.  But so much of the good friend remains over that you can surely forgive him what needs to be forgiven.  The crux of the whole matter is his old besetting sin – that he cannot write letters and cannot write diplomatically either, as you so tauntingly remark.

Incidentally I do not expect any answer to this.  As I have said, I tried in vain to write differently, but the whole of this letter cried out to be written and it ends as disconsolately as it began.  Always and in all circumstances, Your entirely devoted J.B.

Litzmann, Berthold, Ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms 1853-1896, Vol. I, Edward Arnold & Co. 1927, pp. 229-230.

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