Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters / Edition 1

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This book is the first comprehensive collection of the letters of Johannes Brahms ever to appear in English. Over 550 are included, virtually all uncut, and there are over a dozen published here for the first time in any language. Although he corresponded throughout his life with some of the great performers, composers, musicologists, writers, scientists, and artists of the day, and although thousands of his letters have survived, English readers have until now had scant opportunity to meet Brahms in person, through his words, and in his own voice.

The letters in this volume range from 1848 to just before his death. They include most of Brahm's letters to Robert Schumann, over a hundred letters to Clara Schumann, and the complete Brahms-Wagner correspondence. They are joined by a running commentary to form an absorbing narrative, documented with scholarly care, provided with comprehensive notes, but written for the general music lover—the result is a lively biography. The work is generously illustrated, and contains several detailed appendices and an index.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...this is the first comprehensive selection to appear in English....a readably translated collection spanning Brahms's entire adult life and encompassing the widest circle of his friends and acquaintances, puts Anglophone readers in closer contact with the composer, and deeply in [Avins'] debt....[a] delightful and absorbing book. It is going to become an absolutely central work of reference."—BBC Music Magazine

"A valuable contribution to Brahms scholarship....Remarkably direct and clear, the translations of Brahms' own words ought to lead to many new avenues of research. An excellent choice for all academic collections."—Choice

"Richly informative."—The Sunday Times (London)

"Even if Ms. Avins had merely presented these 564 letters...with only a few footnotes, she would have performed a great service....But she has done more than that. She has provided a thoroughly researched, well-thought-out and abundantly annotated continuity that places each letter in its context....This biography-cum-autobiography will give great pleasure to lay readers as well as specialists."—The Wall Street Journal

"There are many gems here...much to be gleaned from what Avins has selected....Those who seek to be on more intimate terms with Brahms and his circle...will find much to pore over in this collection."—Los Angeles Times

Allen Hughes
Ms. Avins and Josef Eisinger have produced a reference work that performers and program-note writers may find useful for years to come. It is clearly a labor of love. -- Chamber Music Magazine
Library Journal
Avins, a cellist and musicologist at Drew University, has filled a conspicuous lacuna in Brahms scholarship, as no general collection of Brahms's letters had ever before been translated into English. Avins, who completed the editing of this massive tome in time for the centennial of Brahms's death, acknowledges at the outset that the composer was a reluctant letter-writer. Among the 564 letters in this volume, one will not find passages of great literary beauty, nor are there profound exegeses on the nature of aesthetics. Letters, for Brahms, were for the most part utilitarian, and he destroyed many that he considered too personal and revealing. Nonetheless, his distinctive personality shines forth in each one gruff and impatient with violinist Joachim and his publisher Simrock, gracious and humble with Clara Schumann, good-natured and jovial again to Joachim, now in a better mood. Avins has arranged the letters into eight chronological sections, and her prefaces to each, in addition to her extensive footnotes and commentary, help to provide the needed context. In the process, certain durable legends about Brahms the shy teen playing piano in the brothels of Hamburg, for example are neatly debunked. This is a work that will thrill Brahms fans and provide much pleasure for those entertained by the personal correspondence of great artists. Recommended for general and academic libraries.Larry A. Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, Pa.
A collection of over 550 letters the German composer wrote between 1848 and just before his death in 1897, most presented in their entirety. They describe many significant events in his life, illuminate his friendships and music, and reveal such personal traits as sarcasm and integrity. Among them are letters to and from Robert and Clara Schuman and the complete correspondence between Brahms and Wagner. They are linked by commentary providing a narrative of his life, notes, appendices that include biographical sketches of people mentioned, a selection of illustrations, and a ribbon bookmark. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199247738
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/27/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 912
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Styra Avins is Adjunct Professor of Music History at Drew University, New Jersey. Josef Eisinger is Professor Emeritus at Mount Sinai Medical School, New York.

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  • Posted October 29, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    This is a beautiful book ... go on: read it

    Just a couple of small observations: <BR/><BR/>**The 27th of February 1854 was the most devastating day of Brahms' life. Robert Schumann threw himself into the Rhine in an attempt at suicide. His derangement interrupted a period of enormous creative momentum in the young composer's life (P36). <BR/><BR/>After the tragedy, Brahms' immediate reaction was to rush from Hanover to Dusseldorf, to Clara Schumann's side. With the support of Grimm, Dietrich and Joachim, he offered what help he could. There were six small Schumann children to be cared for, Clara was pregnant with the seventh, and arrangements had to be made for Robert Physical safety (he would soon be taken to an asylum in Endenich, on the outskirts of Bonn) (P37). On 11 June 1854, Clara gave birth to her eighth (!!!!????) and last child, Felix. (P45). <BR/><BR/>Was Felix the Seventh ??? All my references indicate that Clara Schumann raised seven children, an eighth died in infancy. <BR/><BR/>**WAS IT CLARA'S COMPLEX that caused Brahms to fear public appearances, when he was 23-25(??); given the fact that Clara was an excellent pianist with no equal, and Brahms could not have possibly matched her skills. <BR/><BR/>""J. Brahms wrote copiously to Clara, not only during this tour (1854), but for the next two years as well. For a time he was writing at least once a day, thereby leaving us a treasury of letters which overflow with emotions, and the details of his existence"". <BR/>It looks to me Brahms feared the public, in general. See JB letter to Julius Otto Grimm; ""Dusseldorf September 1855...I intend to play in public this winter and notice with horror that my aversion to playing for people has got quite out of hand. How will it go? At times I am seriously frightened. I do now practice a lot; also I have quite a lot of lessons to give.... (P112)""... Anything to do with Clara's complex!!! I ask?? <BR/>""Brahms first appearance with orchestra took place in Bremen, on November 20, 1855. He played two works by Beethoven: The Emperor Concerto, OP.73, and the solo Fantasy in G minor, OP.77. (P114) <BR/>The greatest portion of what we know about him during these earlier periods of his life comes from what he wrote to Clara (P66). <BR/>Clara told in her diary his letters were her only joy. She too wrote frequently except that her replies have perished `I have often written to him, which always cheers me up, for of course, I cannot write to Robert of the things that occupy my mind; his spirit does not accompany me, when I go into a concert it does not feel me as if he were wishing me success - then I am dreadfully melancholy, and the one thing that lifts me , that always strengthens me, when my courage threatens to fail, is that He, Johannes, the dearest, most faithful friend, thinks of me and accompanies me with his good wishes"" . <BR/><BR/>The letters which still exist are only a portion of what he wrote. <BR/><BR/>""JB to Clara Dusseldorf 22/2/1856. .... I think to myself how beautiful it would be if we both made really vigorous strides and became capable, great musicians. Each of us places the other above himself, what is more natural but that we should squabble with each other, as long as we squabble only with each other..... (P121) Prior to that, on Feb 12, Brahms wrote Clara: ""It always depresses me a little that I am still not a proper musician, but I have the talent for it, more, probably, than is usual in young people nowadays.... (See comments on

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    Posted February 25, 2009

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