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Clara Schumann to Brahms, 20 Dec, 1858

April 21, 2012
Clara Schumann


Vienna, Dec.20 [1858]

I should have been glad to send back your things sooner but I was unable to do so because I wanted to get more than a superficial knowledge of them.  You know that the reading of a score is not an easy matter for me, and it takes me some time.  Yesterday and today I have at last succeeded in having a few hours alone, and now to my joy I know everything thoroughly.  But I cannot summon up the courage to write to you in detail about them. All the same I will try to imagine that things are still as they were before, and that I can tell you all that my heart feels with complete confidence.  You know that I can say little that does not come from my heart.  It is there that the music makes its first appeal, and when once it has captivated me I can begin to think about it.  What charms me most is the Serenade.  I liked it from the opening bars and think it sounds exquisite.  The second motif forms a beautiful contrast to the first and when once I got beyond the progressions in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth bars I feel perfectly happy.   When the bassoons and the clarinets come in I begin to warm up and continue to do so more and more until the D Flat major is reached, when on pages 14,15 and 16 the piece proceeds with wonderful subtlety and depth.  From there onwards to the A major and the last pp. is heavenly, but I cannot get accustomed to the return to the first motif by means of the organ point in A.  According to natural law ought not the organ point to have been on E?  I say “natural law”, because no other can be considered when natural feelings are so peremptory – to me it sounds insipid.  The end with its return to the second motif and its wonderfully sweet conclusion on A major is again very beautiful.  How delightful the oboes are, and then the basses with the second motif.  What strikes me as so ingenious is the triplet movement with the four quavers which pervades the whole – how powerful the effect must be in the fortissimo passage in the middle!  In short I can only compare the effect of the whole with that of the most beautiful, which is the D major Serenade.  But I find the development in this one much more successful.  Is this Serenade to be given any more movements?

I like certain parts of the Brautgesang very much, some – e.g. page 14 from C major onwards, and then later where the four voices come together – I like extremely.  The last bar on page 15 is wonderful.  But it has struck me that here and there the motifs are a little bit commonplace, for instance, on hearing the melody

[music quotation]

I should have thought of Hiller or some other musician and not of you, and even the opening

[music quotation]

makes the same impression on me.

Forgive me, I dare say what I have said is silly, but every time I played the piece through I felt this more and more.  I cannot imagine the piece pleasing through its melodies but rather through its harmonies.

I was deeply struck by the Grabgesang.  It is magnificent for the altos to sing alone first and then for the sopranos to enter with “Gottes Posaune wird angehn“.  How impressive the big drum must be just before.  I think the music between the parts on pages 4 and 5 is wonderful, as is also the crescendo in the accompaniment when the bassoons and clarinets play in unison.  But the most magnificent of all is the passage which begins die Seel’, die lebt. I had to play it over again and again because I was so loath to leave it.  The only thing I don’t quite like is the second bar in A major.  The music seems to halt there a bit, whereas both before and after it surges along so beautifully.  The end with the altos again must be most impressive.  Have you heard it?  If only one could hear it!  I have had it in my mind for days.  I should like to have it sung at my grave some day – I believe that in writing it you must have thought of me!-

The song I like best is Scheiden und Meiden.  I constantly had to look at the title because I could not help thinking it must be a folk song, I mean a popular melody.  In der Ferne stands out from the rest as being particularly thoughtful.  I think the verses too are charming – oh, but I like all the songs!

Thank you, dear Johannes, for having sent me these things.  Leave me my joy in them and do not spoil it by your customary remarks.  It won’t make me feel any different.  But whatever criticism I have made I shall be glad to defend.  I am much more ready to err on the side of fault-finding than on that of praise.  I am sending the music with this letter and I hope you will receive it early enough to be able to get it in order in Detmold before the New Year.  I have been thinking all along that this time you would stay longer there.  Has the Prince not asked you?  Aren’t you giving any concert in the theatre? Why don t you write to me about the Marshal’s wife?  Don t you ever come across her?  Has the Prince asked you to come next winter?…

I am sending you a programme of my last concert.  Your dances were much more appreciated here than in Pesth.  The applause was never ending and I had to play again…. Bach s Gavotte in D minor has become a great favourite with the people of Pesth and Vienna – some ass in Pesth has had them printed with the heading “Played by Cl.Sch. at her concerts”.  People here have been clamouring the whole time for me to play the Kreisleriana.  But they seem to me so unsuitable for a concert.  However, I must give way, for Spina says that I shall attract bigger crowds if I play them.  But I shall have to make a selection.  It would be impossible to give them all.  Unfortunately, one can hardly ever play with an orchestra here, it costs too much…

For various reasons I am sorry that you should speak so contemptuously about your concerto.  So just lock it up in the cupboard- you cannot take it from me even if you can deny me the pleasure of playing it.. Yesterday in the large Redoutensaale they produced the Peri.  The choir and orchestra were good, but the soloists were feeble, devoid of all poetry (the Peri excepted).  But it pleased tremendously.  I revelled in the magnificent music.  Surely the instrumentation is often quite wonderful, but at times I was conscious of a little monotony, particularly in the wind instruments.  You will hardly believe, however, what a large following Robert has won here and how the understanding of him has increased.  The other day, for instance, the Second Trio aroused the greatest enthusiasm, as did also the Quartet in F major, the adagio and scherzo of which the audience encored, as they also did in the trio.  Indifferent as I am to the verdict of the public, this nevertheless gave me much pleasure.  They are wearing their pens out writing about him here.  Some of the asses are doing so at the expense of Mendelssohn, but others, like Hanslick, Bagge, and Debrois, are writing very well.  A day or two ago I received a letter from the latter in which he said that he had not called upon me because he had heard both directly and indirectly that he had no place in my heart, and that he could not bear to be one of the things which I regarded with indifference.  Of course I did not answer.  As if it were so easy to win a place in my heart!  For that a man must have the highest credentials.  Good God, in this my pride really does count for something!  Please greet the Princess for me.  I really will write to her soon.

I have had a very nice letter from Joachim.  He wrote to me about his Hungarian adagio which you have praised so kindly.  Please tell me something about it.  Is it clearer than his things are as a rule?  I should be so glad if one day he would write something really pleasing.  I am so dreadfully annoyed by the almost complete misunderstanding of his productive powers on the part of musicians.

You ought to publish something again soon, I mean a collection of pieces.  It is not good to have too long intervals.  I don t pretend to understand it, but this is what I feel. Write to me soon if you can, and let it be a long letter….Farewell and don t forget me, Your CLARA

Litzmann, Berthold, Ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms 1853-1896, Vol. I, Edward Arnold & Co. 1927, pp. 91-94.

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