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Clara Schumann to Brahms, 16 Feb, 1859

April 29, 2012
Clara Schumann


Vienna, Feb. 16 [1859]


Once more I have waited longer than I ought to have done before writing to you; but this is what happened.  When I first got the news of the unfortunate reception of your concerto I straightway sat down to write to you.  I felt that a kind word would be some solace to you.  But then I was afraid that you would answer me shortly and that I should feel offended.  It has taken me a long time to get over it,- not that a bad reception can in the least diminish your great worth as an artist, but it pained me very much to think that such an icy breath could reach your warm artist’s heart, for no one is so far above everything as not to prefer a friendly reception to the reverse.  Livia Frege wrote and told me how decidedly hostile everybody was, particularly Rietz, and I was afraid that this might have cooled your enthusiasm even at the rehearsal, so that you did not play your concerto as well as you can play it.  Otherwise it is impossible to explain the remark that you were not technically competent to play your own work, for no one dreams of such a thing, when a composer is playing his own compositions.

But you tell me that it went very well with the orchestra.  So all one can think is that if even the musicians were not stirred it was due to the hostile atmosphere having been too overpowering.  Did you not try the Serenade at all?  If you had played this first, your victory would have been certain, because it is a much clearer work.  I could not be annoyed by what you sent me, for it is such vile rubbish, so low, that it only deserves contempt.  I can well understand that the first movement of the concerto is still giving you trouble – how strange that it should be so wonderful in detail and yet as a whole so difficult to enjoy, inspiring though it is.  Why is it? I cannot make it out.  Livia wrote to say that the first movement was clearer to her than the adagio and the finale.  But I can’t understand that either.  I am so sorry that I cannot manage to hear it.  It is most unlikely that I shall come to Hamburg.  As things are at present I shall probably be in Prague at that time, that is to say, far enough away – I must seize every means of making money.

But although you may not have to contend with hostility in Hamburg you may have to meet stupidity….I am very busy here and do not stop working from morning to night.  I hardly ever go to the theatre because it is impossible.   The whole of the morning I give lessons, and in the afternoon and evening I deal with my correspondence, practise, and see visitors.  I do all this in a state of the utmost exhaustion, for my lessons take it out of me terribly and I have to give at least three a day, one after the other.  But I am rewarded by the thought that I am doing a lot of good here, for the standard of musical teaching is so low that it has become a sort of trade.  There is enough talent about, and the majority of my lady pupils play such things, for instance, as Robert s most difficult works, Op. 13, 17, Kreisleriana, sonatas, etc. They very much want me to play at Leipsic, but I cannot help feeling that I ought not to do it, because they received you so badly.  Do not laugh at me for this, the other day I saw The Taming of the Shrew, and I was extremely delighted with it.  I only wish you could see such a piece here once, perfect down to the smallest part.  Next week Eckert has promised to take me to Fidelio as a send-off.  Please write to me again soon, and think kindly and affectionately of Your CLARA

Litzmann, Berthold, Ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms 1853-1896, Vol. I, Edward Arnold & Co. 1927, pp. 96-97.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 21, 2012 5:14 pm

    Clara Schumann is just such a lovely woman in person and in her letter to Brahms, just speaking to him as if he was her own son

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