Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: Journal, pp. 24-27, February 28, 1876

Berlin, February 28, 1876

Just arrived home from Wiesbaden. Spent another highly interesting day there with Brahms yesterday. In the morning there was a matinée musicale at the house of the same Princess of Hesse-Barchfeld. The Frankfort String Quartet, Hugo Heerman leading, had come over for the purpose. Brahms played with them his “Quartet in C Minor, Op. 60,” and then accompanied me in the longest, and to me the finest, of his romances from Tieck’s beautiful Magellone, “Wie soll ich die Freude, die Wonne denn tragen,” Op. 33, No. 6.

After the matinée Brahms took me to the Landgravine Anna of Hesse, a princess of considerable talent, whom however, as he told me, he mostly admired her for her simple and modest, yet extremely cordial and affable manners. Otherwise he does not particularly care for personal intercourse with the “highest spheres of society,” as he called it.

Princess Anna of Prussia (1836-1918), Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, painting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter.

Last night, being Sunday before Shrove-Tuesday, we had intended to go to the masked ball at the Kursaal, to which we had already taken tickets. In the afternoon, however, Brahms came to my room in the hotel, and said: “I say! I have another idea; let us give the tickets to the head-waiter and ourselves rather go to Mr. X., (Henschel’s footnote. A composer of the most wonderful fertility, at that time quite celebrated and rather popular.) which will entertain us just as well. You know, I am really fond of the man, but can’t help being amused at his good-natured loquacity, which to me is as good as a play. Do make him speak of Wagner; I like that especially; and also ask him to show you one of his orchestral scores; they are really models of what copying ought to be. You will see that Mr. X. is an extraordinary fellow. He is not happy unless he composes a certain number of hours every day, and with all that he copies even the parts of his symphonies himself.”

Well, to Mr.X.’s house we went accordingly, finding, to our satisfaction, both him and his wife at home. Brahms seemed tired; he spoke little, which, however, was only natural, since both Mr. X. and his wife seemed to vie with each other as to which could talk most and quickest. At last Mr X., who constantly reminded me on Don Bartolo without the wig, was called away into the next room by his barber, who had come to shave him, and the task of entertaining us rested on Mrs. X.’s shoulders alone. “You have no idea,” she said, “how hard a worker X. is.” (She never said “my husband.”) “I am proud and happy to have at last prevailed upon him to go for a walk with our daughter every day for two hours, thus keeping him at least for two hours a day from composing.”

“Ah, that’s good, that’s very good,” said Brahms instantly, again looking as innocent as a new-born babe. Mr. X., upon our taking leave, offered to accompany us on a little stroll through the park, during which he told us he had received an invitation to conduct one of his symphonies at a coming music festival in Silesia. Upon my speaking rather disparagingly of the musical achievements of the moving spirit of that festival, a member of the highest aristocracy, who had published and produced several pretentious and very inferior compositions of his own, Brahms said to me, with the pretence of a serious rebuke in his voice: “My dear Henschel, let me warn you to be more cautious when speaking of a nobleman’s compositions, for you can never know who did ’em!”

We left Wiesbaden last night for Frankfort on the Main. On arriving at the old hotel where I had been in the habit of putting up, room No. 42 was allotted to us by one of the menials. While, however, we were sitting in the tap-room over a farewell bottle of Rhine-wine, the head-waiter, who knew us, came up to me, announcing that a far better room, No 11, had been placed at our disposal. After a cozy chat, in the course of which, to my great delight, Brahms had asked me if I knew of a very remote, quiet spot, untrodden by excursionists, where, during the summer vacation we might spend a week or two together – we retired to room No. 11, and it was my instant and most ardent endeavor to go to sleep before Brahms did, as I knew from past experience that otherwise his impertinently healthy habit of snoring would mean death to any hope of sleep on my part.

My delight at seeing him take up a book and read in bed was equaled only by my horror when, after a few minutes, I saw him blow out the light of his candle. A few seconds later the room was fairly ringing with the most unearthly noises issuing from his nasal and vocal organs. What should I do? I was in despair, for I wanted sleep, and, moreover, had to leave for Berlin early next morning. A sudden inspiration made me remember room No. 42. I got up, went downstairs to the lodge of the porter, whom, not without some difficulty, I succeeded in rousing from a sound sleep. Explaining the cause and object, I made him open room No. 42 for me. After a good night’s rest, I returned, early in the morning, to the room in which I had left Brahms.

He was awake and, affectionately looking at me, with the familiar little twinkle in his eye and mock seriousness in his voice, said to me, well knowing what had driven me away: “Oh, Henschel, when I awoke and found your bed empty, I said to myself, ‘There! he’s gone and hanged himself!’ But really, why didn’t you throw a boot at me?”

The idea of my throwing a boot at Brahms!

During our hurried breakfast – Brahms, returning to Vienna, also had to take an early train – we again spoke of the coming summer, and he seemed rather attracted by the glowing description I gave him of island of Rügen, in the Baltic Sea, which I had visited before and was very fond of, but which was quite unknown to him. So we parted with a hearty “Auf Wiedersehn,” which made me very happy. I love him dearly.

Notes

The illustration is not in Henschel’s book.

3 thoughts on “Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: Journal, pp. 24-27, February 28, 1876

  1. Robert Samuels

    Great stuff again, Barry — thanks so much for putting this up. I think the genial Mr X must be Joachim Raff, who lived in Wiesbaden between 1855 and 1877. And I suspect that the aristocratic composer Henschel disparaged was Bolko Graf von Hochberg (https://second.wiki/wiki/bolko_von_hochberg), who founded the Silesian Music Festival in Breslau in 1876.
    Great to know that Brahms snored really loudly. Probably another reason he never married.

    Reply

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