Category Archives: history of Romantic music

Personal Recollections of Johannes Brahms (1907) by George Henschel: The Journal, pp. 33-34, Jul 10 [1876]

July 10

Yesterday afternoon I spent nearly three hours in Brahms’ rooms. He showed me new songs of his, asking me if I could suggest a short way of indicating that a certain phrase in one of them was not his own.

“I have,” he said, “taken a charming motive of Scarlatti’s

as the theme of a song I composed to one of Goethe’s poems, and should like to acknowledge my indebtedness. I proposed, as the best and simplest way, that he should merely place Scarlatti’s name at the end of the phrase in question. [Henschel’s footnote. This was done and the spirited, humorous song afterwards published as No. 5 of Op. 72 (Simrock).]

He also showed me the manuscript of an unpublished song and the first movement of a Requiem Mass, both by Schubert, enthusiastically commenting on their beauty. The first two issues of the Bach Society’s publication of cantatas were lying on his table, and he pointed out to me how badly the accompaniments were often arranged for the piano; how, in fact, the endeavor to bring out as nearly as possible every individual part of the orchestra had rendered the arrangement well nigh unplayable for any but a virtuoso.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Portrait by Leopold Kupelweiser (1796-1862).

“The chief aim,” he said, “of a pianoforte arrangement of orchestral accompaniments must always be to be easily playable. Whether the different parts move correctly, i.e. in strict accordance with the rules of counterpoint, does not matter in the least.”

Then we went together through the full score of Mozart’s “Requiem,” which he had undertaken to prepare for a new edition of that master’s works. I admired the great trouble he had taken in the revision of the score. Every note of Süssmayer’s was most carefully distinguished from Mozart’s own.

It was a wonderful experience to have this man’s company quite to myself for so long a time. During all these days Brahms has never spoken of anything which does not really interest him, never said anything superfluous or common place, except at the table d’hôte, where he purposely talks of hackneyed things, such as the weather, food, the temperature of the water, excursions, etc., etc.


Brahms Op. 72 No.5

The portrait of Schubert is not in Henschel’s book.