Bittersweet Symphonies:
Johannes Brahms & Clara Wieck Schumann

In 1855 Johannes Brahms wrote the pianist Clara Schumann a naked cry of frustration: “I can do nothing but think of you… What have you done to me? Can’t you remove the spell you have cast over me?” The situation between them at the time was messy - very messy. Clara was 35, Brahms 21, she famous, he rather more infamous. She was married to the composer Robert Schumann, and the pair had seven young children. On the other hand, for more than a year, Clara’s husband had been in an asylum and Clara had not been allowed to see him. When Robert fell off the edge, Brahms had hastened to her side.

Now Brahms, Robert’s protege and discovery, was helplessly in love with Robert’s wife. They had not expected it, didn’t want it, and so on. Brahms loved and admired Robert. Shortly before jumping in the Rhine to escape the demonic oratorios in his head, Robert had made the name Brahms known across Europe, declaring this student from Hamburg the coming saviour of German music.

Brahms, meanwhile, was living with Clara and the children - his bedroom on a separate floor, to be sure, but spending most of his time consoling her, helping with the children, and going nearly out of his mind with yearning.

In those years Brahms was slim, beardless and drop-dead handsome. Gossip was sizzling in musical circles. Clara was yearning mightily, too, but as with Brahms her feelings were tangled up with anxiety and guilt. Robert and Clara had been, after all, the supreme musical romance of the Romantic period. Clara was the love of Robert’s life, his prime musical champion, the heroic force that had held together his splintering mind longer than anyone could have imagined. Continue Reading »

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