Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: The Journal, pp. 40-41, July 13&14 [1876]

July 13.

I asked him yesterday if he had thought of going to the inauguration performances of “The Nibelungs’ Ring” at Bayreuth in August, “I am afraid,” he said, “it’s too expensive. I have repeatedly heard ‘Rheingold’ and ‘Walküre’ at Münich, and confess it would greatly interest me, but – well, we’ll think of it.”

Then, taking up the volume of Hauptmann’s letters I had lent him, and pointing to one of them, he said: ” Just look; do you see these asterisks instead of a name?” I did, and read the whole sentence, which described a certain composer, indicated by the asterisks, as a rather haughty young man. “That’s me,” said Brahms amusedly. “When I was a very young man I remember playing, at Göttingen, my ‘Sonata in C’ to Hauptmann. He was not very complimentary about it, in fact, had much fault to find with it, which I, a very modest youth at that time, accepted in perfect silence. I afterwards heard that this silence had been interpreted and complained of, as haughtiness. I confess, the more I read of these letters, the clearer it becomes to me that they are written with a certain consciousness of importance. Beethoven would have laughed if any one, seeing in one of his letters a remark on any subject whatever, had taken this as proving the the justice of such remark. But there are people – take, for instance, Varnhagen – who, never having accomplished anything really great themselves, sit down at their writing desks in a peevish, sulky temper, pulling to pieces – even when praising – everything they can lay hold of. To twaddle about Bach or Beethoven, as is done in the letters to Hauser, in a chattering, feuilletonistic way, is wholly unnecessary: they stand too firm for that kind of thing.”

Moritz Hauptmann (1792-1868), engraving 1840.

July 14

Last evening we sat downstairs in the coffee room, having supper, when suddenly some one in the adjoining dining-hall began to play Chopin’s Study in A Flat on the piano. I sprang up, intending to put a stop to it, and exclaiming, “Oh, these women!” when Brahms said, “No, my dear, this is no woman.” I went into the hall to look, and found he was right. “yes,” he said, “in this respect I am hardly ever mistaken; and it is by no means an easy thing to to distinguish, by the sense of hearing alone, a feminine man from a masculine woman!”

Notes

Here is the sonata which Hauptmann found so many faults with. Brahms Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1, composed 1852-33, when Brahms was 19/20.

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