Johannes Brahms was a hunter and collector, on the one hand of prints and precious books (he owned an edition of Martin Luther’s table speeches, “printed at Franckfurt am Mayn 1567”), on the other hand of autographs. Manuscripts by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert were in his library; He kept a letter from Beethoven “as a relic”, as he confessed in a letter to the music writer Marie Lepsius on May 27, 1885, not without adding: “But I am appalled when I consider what such a letter should mean and explain! “
What would Brahms have said if he now held the large collection of quotations “Johannes Brahms at his word” by Renate and Kurt Hofmann? He would probably have been torn between emotion and horror: emotion because of the knowledge, care and devotion that speak from this volume; Horror because of the abundance of material that is open to posterity for interpretation without his being able to control this interpretation himself. This is exactly what he tried to control the image that posterity makes of him when, a few months before his death, he had all unfinished compositions, sketches, unpublished works and most of his personal notes burned.
There is enough left: the letter edition now counts nineteen volumes, plus the diaries of Clara Schumann evaluated by Berthold Litzmann and the great abundance of memories of Brahms friends who were gifted with writing. Like few others in his field, the composer was embedded in the scientific, political and artistic discourse of his time. The surgeon and politician Theodor Billroth was one of his friends, as was the Swiss writer and Nobel Prize candidate for literature, Josef Viktor Widmann. Brahms was in contact with other writers such as Gottfried Keller, Paul Heyse and Klaus Groth, as well as painters such as Adolph von Menzel, Arnold Böcklin, Max Klinger and Anselm Feuerbach. This is a paradisiacal starting point for historical research.
The Hofmanns have now, so to speak, put together a concordance of this flood of sources: sorted by catchphrase on the composer’s world of life and work, and subdivided into groups of works and genres when creating. Within the groups, the quotations are again listed chronologically, each with the exact source. It takes experience and an overview for such work. Renate and Kurt Hofmann, who laid the foundation for today’s Brahms Institute at the Musikhochschule Lübeck with their important collection, have acquired it in half a century of highly valued research work.
In their concordance one encounters a person who, meanwhile moved from Hamburg to Vienna, does not celebrate the Prussian-Austrian war of 1866, but recognizes Prussia as the engine of social progress in the empire. In 1888 he almost fell out with Widmann because he attacked the young Kaiser Wilhelm II; a few years later, the election victory of Karl Lueger’s Christian Social Party in Vienna provoked him to exclaim: “Anti-Semitism is madness.”
His remarks on Richard Wagner are astonishingly differentiated, predominantly admirable; On the other hand, his aversion to England and France was insurmountable. Anyone who only ever sees the North German in Brahms lost in the fog of the lowlands will be amazed by a statement from August 1877: “Even in summer I will not leave Austria again. It is too nice and nice here, and what should one deal with northern Germans and Swiss? “
The next sentence, however, suggests that he wanted to fool his addressee: “It’s a shame that there are no Austrian publishers, they must be lovely people!” The letter is addressed to his Berlin publisher Fritz Simrock. This makes it clear that these quotations represent addressed and perspective material. The sources are reliable, but what they “mean and explain everything” depends on the context. For Kurt and Renate Hofmann, this concordance marks the end of their decades of devoted work. For everyone who deals with Brahms, this book is a great help and an important beginning to ask further questions.