Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: The Journal, pp. 42-43, July 15 [1876]

Yesterday morning I took to Brahms the orchestral score of Wagner’s “Götterdammerung.” In the afternoon he said to me, “Why did you bring it to me?” (he had particularly asked me for it!) “The thing interests, and fascinates one, and yet, properly speaking, is not always pleasant. With the ‘Tristan’ score it is different. If I look at that in the morning, I am cross for the rest of the day.” (Henschel’s footnote. I remember my wondering at the time just what meaning Brahms intended to convey by these words. My old friend, Herr Max Kalbeck, editor of the Neues Tagblatt in Vienna, who published the excerpts from my diary referred to in the preface to this little volume, makes the following comment on them: “This sentence needs an explanation, since it could easily be interpreted as meaning that ‘Tristan,’ in contrast to the ‘not always pleasant’ Ring of the Nibelungs, had pleased Brahms very much, so much, indeed that it made him cross out of envy. We know from personal experience that Brahms, though warmly acknowledging the many musical beauties of the work, had a particular dislike to ‘Tristan,’ and as to envy, he never in his life envied anyone. In Wagner he admired, above all, the magnitude of his intentions and the energy in carrying them out. The Bayreuth Festival Theatre he hailed as a national all-German affair. We believe the chief reason why Brahms never went to Bayreuth is to be found in the circumstance that the performances always happened at a season when he, after long and arduous creative work, was wont to give himself up entirely to the recreation of an out-of-door life in the country.”)

…Today I read out, from a Berlin paper, the news of the death, at Bayreuth, of a member of the Wagner orchestra. “The first corpse,” said Brahms, dryly.

In celebration of the sixth anniversary of the declaration of war (Henschel’s footnote. Between France and Germany.) we ordered a bottle of champagne. We had talked ourselves into a tremendous patriotism, and Brahms told me that his first thought, when the war was declared, was to go to Mme. Schumann, who resided, without the protection of a man, at Baden-Baden.

Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann

“So great was my enthusiasm,” he said, “that I was firmly resolved to join, after the first great defeat, the army as a volunteer, fully convinced that I should meet my old father there to fight side by side with me. Thank God! it turned out differently.”

Notes

This short video outlines essentials of the Franco-Prussian War referred to by Henschel.

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