Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: The Journal, pp. 22-23, February 27, 1876

Wiesbaden, February 27, 1876.

Yesterday Brahms and I left Coblence. We were quite alone in our compartment, and I had the happiness of finding him, in regard to his own self and way of working, more communicative than even before. Commencing by speaking of the events of the past days, we soon drifted into talking about art in general and music in particular.

“There is no real creating,” he said, “without hard work. That which you would call invention, that is to say, a thought, an idea, is simply an inspiration from above, for which I am not responsible, which is no merit of mine. Yea, it is a present, a gift, which I ought even to despise until I have made it my own by right of hard work. And there need be no hurry about that, either. It is as with the seed-corn; it germinates unconsciously and in spite of ourselves. When I, for instance, have the the first phrase of a song, say, (Henschel’s footnote. The beginning of the beautiful song “Die Mainacht”, op.43.)

I might shut the book there and then, go for a walk, do some other work, and perhaps not think of it again for months. Nothing, however, is lost. If afterward I approach the subject again, it is sure to have taken shape; I can now begin to really work at it. But there are composers who sit at the piano with a poem before them, putting music to it from A to Z until it is done. They write themselves into a state of enthusiasm which makes them see something finished, something important, in every bar.”

Immediately after our arrival here we had a rehearsal of tonight’s concert. Brahms played his “Concerto in D Minor” magnificently. His touch was wonderfully crisp and clear.

After the concert we went to the house of the Princess of Hesse-Barchfeld to supper. Although Brahms, Ernst Franck, the genial composer and conductor, who had come over from Mannheim, and I were the only non-aristocratic guests present, the affair was very charming and gemütlich. Brahms’ neighbour at table was the very handsome and fascinating wife of a celebrated general, and this fact, together with the fiery Rhine-wine, had a most animating effect on him. After supper the greater part of the company had a very lively game of billiards, and just before leaving, the princess presented Brahms with a handsome box of ebony, to the lid of which a laurel wreath of silver was attached. Each leaf of the wreath had the title of one of Brahms’ works engraved on it. He was delighted, though much amused at finding on one of the leaves “Triumphlied,” that colossal Song of Triumph for double chorus and orchestra, and on the very one next to it “Wiegenlied,” the sweet little lullaby of eighteen bars.

Bertha, Princess of Hesse Barchfeld, photo anon, 1870s?

Notes

The photo of Bertha, Hesse Barchfeld is not in Henschel’s book.

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