Johannes Brahms: A Biography Paperback – Dec 7 1999
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The brilliant biographer of a quintessentially American, prototypically modern musician (Charles Ives) proves just as masterful in probing the life and art of a 19th-century German composer. Writing with passionate clarity that perfectly matches the genius of Brahms (1833-97), Jan Swafford traces the emotional wellsprings of this secretive man's music without trivializing art into mere autobiography. A composer himself, Swafford understands and lucidly conveys Brahms's unique position in musical history: beloved by many, emulated by few, the triumphant yet melancholy heir of a tradition coming to an end in his lifetime. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
A definitive work about one of the 19th century's most influential classical music composers. Books coming out in anniversary years too often don't live up to the subject they celebrate. Such is most definitely not the case in Swafford's biography of Brahms, published on the 100th anniversary of his death. This is an exceptionally well written chronicle of this musical master, an extraordinary work, guaranteed to inform and entertain classical music aficionados and tyros alike. That Swafford (Charles Ives: A Life in Music, 1996) had no easy task is clear. Where some leave long paper trails, Brahms, hoping to let his music rather than his personal life be the legacy on which later generations judged him, destroyed countless personal documents, letters, and music scores he deemed unworthy or compromising. But where Brahms was exceptionally careful--he even signed his name ``J. Br'' to thwart hungry autograph seekers--those around him were not, notably Clara Schumann. A brilliant professional pianist, Frau Schumann, who was married to composer Robert Schumann, was the love of Brahms's life. In their decades-long relationship, they exchanged hundreds of letters, many of which still exist despite Brahms's attempts to get them returned. The letters are simultaneously touching revelations of their relationship--likely never consummated--and perceptive journals of an exciting musical era. Swafford uses the correspondence and other research to paint an exhaustive picture of that era and of Brahms himself. What emerges is a stimulating view of a living paradox, a misogynist who used women as his muse, a generous spirit whose barbed tongue often alienated his best friends. In between, Swafford cleverly uses some 64 musical examples to illustrate Brahms's many musical developments. For readers of Swafford's biography, Brahms's Lullaby will never sound the same. (16 pages of illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I do find some of Swafford's judgements rather conventional. For example, he repeats the received wisdom that Brahms' last orchestral work, the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra to be "weary" and backward-looking." The work was unpopular at its debut, and has never been played as much as the Violin and Piano Concertos, probably because symphonies don't want to pay two soloists. To me, the themes of the second and third movements seem very beautiful and memorable, and it's a shame that Brahms was so dependent on the negative judgement of his musical friends--he never wrote for the orchestra again. Buy the superb recent recording (available on amazon.ca) with Repin and Chailly and decide for yourself.
Also, Swafford follows the usual line in saying that Brahms "committed emotional suicide" (sometimes his prose is a bit overwrought) by not marrying Clara Schumann after her husband Robert died in an insane asylum. Theirs is one of the great might-have-been love stories of musical history.Read more ›
Brahms was a man as well as a composer/musician and I greatly admired the gentle way Mr Swafford narrated the story of the relationship of Brahms to the women he was so attracted to, but kept at arms length - especially, of course, and tragically Clara Schumann. For me there was a secondary biography here - that of Clara Schumann. She was such a courageous woman to sustain the friendship and the stream of musical advice that Brahms so needed, after Brahms had rejected following the death of Robert Schumann. In my experience, few women are capable of sustaining such a friendship in the face of their own emotional disappointment. Mr Swafford describes Brahms' behaviour without any hint of criticism or speculation - the facts speak sufficiently for themselves. Another aspect of this biography is the explanation of the schism in music caused (precipitated?) by Beethoven's musical experiments - a symphony with a program (the 'Pastoral') and one with words (the 'Choral').Read more ›
Swafford can perhaps be taken to task for his failure to acknowledge the recent research that casts doubt upon Brahms' alleged employment in brothels as a very young man. Swafford uncritically accepts the account of Max Kalbeck, an early biographer who knew Brahms. Kalbeck's source, so he said, was Brahms himself. Kalbeck cannot and should not be taken at face value -- nor was Brahms himself incapable of embellishing a good story. The recent research to which the previous reviewer refers casts doubt Kalbeck's account, but to say "that Brahms could not have played the piano in brothels as a boy" is overstating the case, going well beyond the available evidence (as Avins does also in her book). We simply do not know the truth, and probably never will.
The previous reviewer also errs when he says that Swafford "takes off from this picture of a pitiful childhood as a central principle in Brahms's life, relationships, etc." Swafford does not paint Brahms' childhood as "pitiful." He makes clear the love and affection that both of his parents lavished on him and details the educational opportunities that they provided him, in spite of the fact that they were working class people. Brahms' affection for both his parents lasted until their deaths, as Swafford makes clear.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I would tentatively recommend this biography. While it certainly is very long, and definitely not lacking in detail, some of that extraordinary amount of detail is not correct. Read morePublished on June 30 2013 by Matthew Davidson
As a music major in college, I read lots of books on music, including many composer biographies. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Swafford's book on the life of Brahms. Read morePublished on Feb. 9 2002 by Neil Blaze
This book is so easy and fun to read! A shear joy! There is so much detail and great stories in this book. Stuff we have never seen before. Read morePublished on Nov. 5 2001 by Martin Hanson
As I noted in the title of this review, this book is a great portrait of the man who was Brahms. The fact that he was a great composer is almost seconary. Read morePublished on Jan. 18 2001 by C. Noble
If you have ever read Maynard Solomon's biographies of Mozart and Beethoven, and enjoyed them, you will definitely like Swafford's biography of Brahm's. Read morePublished on Jan. 3 2001 by Bruce Loveitt
I have been reading and re-reading this book for months. I enjoyed some passages so much that I read them several times! I just love it! Read morePublished on Sept. 30 2000 by Anthony G. Holland
This will probably be the definitive Brahms biography for some time to come. The oft-told story of Brahms' relationship with the Schumanns, and of Robert's decline and death,... Read morePublished on Sept. 6 2000 by Ed Ting
Swafford's Brahms biography is certainly readable, and the author displays great sympathy with his subject. Read morePublished on Jan. 18 2000
Highly readable. This large tome fills in all the information on Brahms that your college Music History class left out. Read morePublished on Jan. 14 1999