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Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters [Hardcover]

Johannes Brahms
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Book Description

Dec 1 1997
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. `I am aware of my bad habit of writing briefly but obscurely', Brahms once wrote to a friend. He was needlessly hard on himself, for his letters describe many significant events in his life, throw light on his friendships and music, and reveal his wit, idealism, intelligence, generosity, sarcasm, and above all his powerful sense of integrity. The letters in this volume range from 1848 to just before his death. They include all Brahms'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 book is generously illustrated, and contains several detailed appendices and an index.

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From 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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

`without Avins' judicious commentary, this book would not cohere. Her translations on the whole feel admirably authentic.' Michael Church, Financial Times (weekend)

`Rich in detail, bringing this reputedly dour man vividly to life, this is a useful addition to the bookshelves' Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

`Avins has not only made good a glaring omission in Brahms studies - this is the first extensive selection of the letters in English - she has also transcended her narrower academic remit to create a virtual biography by stealth ... Invaluable reference tool that this is, Avins has conjured up something rather better. The book is not cheap but it is contains some rare photographs and is notably well produced.' David Gutman, Classic CD

`a rich compilation of Brahms correspondence ... she supplies fascinating illustrations, a helpful chronological table and other tools' International Herald Tribune

`Occasionally a book comes along which changes perceptions of its subject. This is such a book. Her annotations are not only scholarly but often witty and always full of common sense. The translation is lively, if once or twice unconvincingly slangy of today. Wherever you read in these 858 pages, you will feel you are in Brahms's world and that he is speaking to you.' Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph

`Until I read this long, richly informative book - the first substantial edition of his letters to be published in English - I never felt much curiosity about Brahms.' David Cairns, The Sunday Times

`contains 550 letters, some of them never published before in any language, many appearing for the first time ... They are annotated in such painstaking detail that the book can be read as a biography ... a book in which this composer has seldom seemed more lovable, more vulnerable, more honourable.' Michael Oliver, Gramophone

`the publication of Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters fills what has for too long been a void in our knowledge ... The selection is chronological and comprehensively annotated, so that the book can be read as a biographical narrative illuminated by Brahms himself. This is one of the most important music books published in recent years.' Fritz Spiegl, The Oldie

`The translators have taken the decision to retain, as far as possible, the idioms and sentence constructions of the originals, and, for those who can't read German, here is an irrestistible opportunity to meet Brahms in person.' rosemary Williamson, Newsletter of the Royal Northern College of Music

`this is the first comprehensive selection to appear in English ... Avins's labours have bestowed an unusual fund of experience. Perhaps no other editor, in any language, has reviewed the entire Brahms correspondence and much of the supporting literature in one intense burst ... delightful and absorbing book. It is going to become an absolutely central work of reference: I expect to be using it for the rest of my life.' Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine, Sept 99

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Customer Reviews

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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
"Richly informative" - Sunday Times, London. "Occasionally a book comes along which changes perceptions of its subject. This is such a book. ... [The] annotations are not only scholarly but often witty and always full of common sense. ... Wherever you read, you will feel you are in Brahms's world and that he is speaking to you." - Sunday Telegraph, London. "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. "Little short of a bombshell ... Ms. Avins's contributions are terse and often illuminating... fascinating illustrations, a helpful chronological table and other tools... Brahms reveals himself in workaday as well as transcendent moods." - New York Times. "This is a work that will thrill Brahms fans and provide much pleasure to those entertained by the personal correspondence of great artists. Recommended for general and academic libraries." - Library Journal. "It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the book presents Brahms in a new but quite convincing light... the book can be read as a biography... this composer has seldom seemed more lovable, more vulnerable, more honorable." - Gramophone. "This is one of the most important music books published in recent years." - The Oldie, London.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brahms biography based on his letters. Dec 5 1997
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
"Johannes Brahms, Life and Letters" is a new biography published by Oxford Univ. Press and is based on the composer's letters. The letters were selected and annotated by Styra Avins and its 550 complete letters which constitute the first such general collection of letters in English, were translated by Josef Eisinger and Styra Avins. The book also contains 48 rare photos, detailed notes and appendices (e.g. on Brahms and Clara Schumann), and a bibliography. The lively text joining the letters is based on the latest Brahms scholarship and provides a fresh view of the composer's life, much of it in his own words. It sheds new light on the early life of Brahms, his numerous friendships, his family, his work, his character and his personality. A well-written book which will heighten anyone's appreciation of the man and of his music. Highly recommended to lovers of biography and music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful translation, superb commentary Nov. 29 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The virtues of this book are several: about 800 previously untranslated letters of Brahms, masterfully translated and carefully and judiciously annotated, based on research entirely from source materials which, among other things, give the lie to the unsavory myths of Brahms childhood, proving beyond doubt that he came from a hard-working, well-meaning family who lived in a good neighborhood, and provided him with a good education and normal childhood. The author's research confines to the rubbish heap the silly Freudian theories, never based on any evidence, for his reasons for not marrying. This compendium of letters and their absorbingly written annotation is a gold mine for amateurs and professionals interested in a truthful picture of Brahms.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just Wonderful !! Jan. 30 2003
Format:Paperback
I'v been a Brahms' music fan for a long time and i have read three different biographies, without having the opportunity of get closer to his thoughts before i buy this great book. Now I know how Brahms' mind worked, how (really) was his relationship with his friends and how were his feelings and thoughts during the periods he composed that wonderful music.
I'm not an english born speaker, so i had some difficulties in understand the meaning of some sentences, more exactly, some modisms, wich are very frecuent in Brahms' speech.
In spite of this, I recommend this book because it's just wonderful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, comprehensive, and revealing. Nov. 5 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Unfortunately, Jan Swafford did not have a chance to read this book before writing his own "biograohy" of Brahms. If he had, he would have been privy to a wealth of information, much of which has not been available to non-german speakers. Avins' commentary on the letters of Brahms and many of his correspondents is clear and well researched.
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