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Brahms and Remenyi.

In a book recently published, entitled “Remenyi, Musician and Man,”* a chapter devoted to Remenyi’s early friendship for the great composer will surely interest all violinists. Many things which Remenyi is quoted to have said are entirely new to us. Some of the alleged statements seem, to us at least, incredible. We are in no position, however, to question their authenticity, and since the account of Remenyi’s experiences with Brahms is, to say the least, extremely interesting, we reprint it without expressing our own or others’ opinions:

“I was in Hamburg toward the end of the year 1852,” said Remenyi, “a kind of enfant gâté, a spoiled child of the élite of the city. There was scarcely a concert or soirée where my presence and assistance were not required. Probably much of this kindness and attention were due to the fact that I was then a Hungarian exile. During the concerts, it was, of course, necessary for me to employ the services of an accompanist. In January, 1853, a fashionable musical entertainment was announced at the house of one of the great merchant princes of Hamburg, a Mr. Helmrich. On the very day that the soirée was to take place I received a letter from my regular accompanist stating that he would be unable to be present that evening, owing to illness. I went across the street from my hotel, to the music establishment of Mr. Auguste Böhm, to ascertain where I could find a substitute. In answer to my inquiries that gentleman remarked, in a nonchalant manner, that little Johannes would perhaps be satisfactory. I asked what sort of Johannes he was. He replied:

“‘He is a poor piano teacher, whose name is Johannes Brahms. He is a worthy young man, a good musician, and very devoted to his family.’

“‘All right,’ I said; ‘send him to the hotel in the afternoon, and I will see him.’

“About five o’clock of the same day, while practicing in my room, somebody knocked at the door, and in came a youth with a very high soprano voice, but whose features, owing to the dusk of the evening, I could not well discern. I lighted a candle, and then saw standing before me a young man who appeared to be about sixteen or seventeen years of age. Both of us at that time were mere boys, and probably looked younger than we were in reality.

“He observed in a modest way, ‘My name is Johannes Brahms. I have been sent here by Mr. Böhm to accompany you and shall be very happy if I can satisfy you as an assistant.’

“We began to rehearse at once, but he had scarcely touched the piano before I found that he was a far better musician than my previous accompanist, and I became interested at once in my new-made friend. I don’t know why, but at that very instant a sort of aureole seemed to linger around his face, it lighted up so beautifully, and I distinctly remember soliloquizing to myself: ‘There is a genius here. This is no ordinary pianist. Fate has laid her fingers on my friend.’ I, addressed to him question after question concerning his career, and learned its most important details, among other things that he had made compositions of his own. We ceased rehearsing, and when he began to play one of his sonatas, violin, soirée engagements and everything were forgotten in the intense enthusiasm that was engendered by the occasion. I was electrified and sat in mute amazement. I could not help making the involuntary remark, ‘My dear Brahms, you are a genius!’

“He smiled in a melancholy sort of way—in fact, his face at that time always wore a sad and thoughtful expression—and replied, ‘Well, if I am a genius, I am certainly not much recognized in this good city of Hamburg.’

“‘But they will recognize you,’ I said, ‘and I shall henceforth tell everybody I meet that I have discovered in you a rare musical gem.’ You may imagine the character of that interview when I tell you we did not separate until four o’clock in the morning.

“The people at Mr. Helmrich’s were, of course, disappointed and very angry at my non-appearance, but I was a mere boy and cared little for consequences at that time. The result was that I lost many similar opportunities and became a sort of laughing-stock among the citizens of Hamburg. Some of them sneeringly said, ‘As you don’t want us, we don’t want you. Since you have found a genius, go and help yourselves.’ I took up the gauntlet.

“Not to be too long with you,” Remenyi said, “I have only to say that all of my engagements ceased, but I clung to my Johannes through thick and thin, feeling that all I said about him must and would prove true. I had against me even Marxsen, his teacher of counterpoint, a very dignified man, who told me plainly:

“‘Well, well, I am very sorry for your judgment. Johannes Brahms may have some talent, but he is certainly not the genius you stamp him.’

“My reply was uniformly the same. His own father, who was a musician, likewise failed to discover the peculiar qualities possessed by his gifted son, and I believe my judgment of him was recognized and appreciated only by his mother, who, with the instinctive nature of her sex, saw, when it was pointed out to her, that Johannes had before him the future of a great musician.

“What was the condition of his family at this time?

“They were in humble circumstances. The father played contrabasso in small orchestras, but was not by any means a remarkable musician. Johannes lived with them and contributed to their support. He was born when his mother was at a comparatively advanced age—what I would call a late-born child. His mother, by the way, was older than his father.

“What were the mental characteristics of Brahms?

“He was a great reader, especially of German poetry, and knew the best of it more or less by heart. To strangers he was monosyllabic in conversation, inclined to be moody and reticent, but when alone with me he was joyous and communicative. In fact, he had perfect reliance on my judgment that he would succeed, and seemed to accept my predictions just as much as if they were a matter of fate. At this time he was giving lessons for the paltry sum of fifteen cents an hour. I determined to take him away from Hamburg, but everybody, with the exception of his mother, smiled at the suggestion, and regarded it as fraught with folly.

“However, in the Spring of 1853 we left the city for the purpose of going to Weimar, but to get there we required money and we had none. We had, therefore, to play our way from station to station, giving concerts in small villages and towns, writing and distributing the programs ourselves, and to be content with receipts that did not average more than five or ten dollars. From an enfant gâté you see I came down to a very humble position, but I never despaired. Everywhere en route I recommended my Johannes to everybody as a genius, for I desired him, in my enthusiasm, to be recognized by the whole world.

“At last we reached Hanover, when I went straight to Joseph Joachim, with whom I had studied in the Conservatory at Vienna. He was at this time about twenty-one years of age, and a favorite of the blind King (who is now dead), occupying the position of concertmeister to His Majesty. I at once told him that I had no money, and that he must assist me. I also said that I had left behind me in a little inn a young companion, named Johannes Brahms, who was a musical genius. At this stereotyped statement he smiled, and said that he would willingly recommend me and my companion to the King, in order that we might, perhaps, obtain the privilege of giving a concert before him, and thus secure a sufficient sum to carry us on our way.

“In the afternoon of that day I was called, with Joachim, to the presence of His Majesty. He inquired whom I desired for an accompanist and I replied, ‘Your Majesty, I want none, because I have one with me whom I regard as a great musical genius.’

“The blind King replied, ‘Well, we will hear your genius in the evening, when you shall give a concert in the court circle.’

“In the course of the evening the King asked Brahms to play some of his own compositions. When he had finished, His Majesty, taking my hand, led me to the window and said: ‘My dear Mr. Remenyi. I believe you are carried away by your enthusiasm; your musical genius has no genius at all.’ This historical moment was recalled to me by the King himself when in Paris in 1874. At a concert at the Salle Herz, after I had finished playing, he observed to me: ‘With reference to your friend Johannes Brahms, you were right, and we were all wrong. I remember your prediction in 1853 concerning that young lad, and his present reputation is an honor to your judgment.’ The present Duke of Cumberland, the son of the King, and the whole suite were standing near by when His Majesty recapitulated the circumstances in detail. They all stared at me.’

“From Hanover we went to Weimar, then the home of Liszt, and proceeded to the Hôtel de Russie. I dressed in my finest clothes for the great event of presenting myself to him. I went to his residence alone, and had scarcely arrived before I was ushered into a beautiful drawing-room full of the most exquisite objects of art, where I tremblingly awaited the appearance of the great man. As he came, the sight of his fine Dantesque face, which once seen can never be forgotten, almost overwhelmed me, but in a very few moments his kind manners and fine conversation put me completely at ease and restored me my self-possession. I told him frankly that I desired to avail myself of his instruction in music. He at once consented, adding that it would give him an especial pleasure to teach me because I was a fellow-countryman, a Hungarian. He said he had heard of me, and had made many inquiries concerning my past experience.

“In the course of the conversation he facetiously inquired if I was well supplied with money. I told him I had little or none. ‘Where do you live?’ said he. I told him I was at a neighboring hotel. He said, ‘Get your things together and come and live with me.’

“You cannot imagine my feelings. I was again overwhelmed, but this time with joy and gratitude. I said to him, ‘But, my dear master, I am not alone,’ and in a few hurried words explained the discovery I had made in Hamburg, and described my friend Johannes.

“‘Oh, well,’ said he, ‘it does not matter. Come and live here together.’

“A heavy weight fell from my breast, and I ran back to the hotel, carrying the good news. Brahms was as much overjoyed as myself. We packed our baggage, and the next morning went to Altenberg, the residence of Liszt. After being comfortably installed, the great master said: ‘Well, what is your genius, as you call him, able to do?’

“‘Master, he will play you some of his own compositions, which I hope will satisfy your high judgment.’ Brahms was therefore invited to sit down to the piano, but hesitated, not daring to do so in the presence of so illustrious a personage.

“Seeing this, Liszt kindly said: ‘If you have your compositions at hand I will play them for you,’ He played two or three of them, as only the great maestro is able to play, at first sight. Brahms was overpowered, and I wept. After finishing them, Liszt left the piano, and walked up and down the room, saying nothing except ‘Well, well! We shall see!’—nothing more, and relapsed into silence.

“After this pupils came in, and one of those interesting lessons was given which are only to be witnessed at the Altenberg, where music was better taught and in a more congenial way than anywhere else in the world. It was a combination of theory and practice illustrated by the brain and fingers of the greatest exponent of music who lives. I have no need to say that the pupils regarded Liszt with veneration; in fact, almost worshipped him.

“And now comes an incident which has been a puzzle to me until the present time. While Liszt was playing most sublimely to his pupils, Brahms calmly slept in a fauteuil, or at least seemed to do so. It was an act that produced bad blood among those present, and everybody looked astonished and annoyed. I was thunderstruck. In going out I questioned Brahms concerning his behavior. His only excuse was: ‘Well, I was overcome with fatigue; I could not help it.’ My friend, William Mason, a distinguished American pianist and teacher, who is now in this city, was present on the memorable occasion and will corroborate the circumstance I have described. I mentioned it to him only the other day, and he remembered it perfectly. I said to Brahms: ‘Whatever the cause, that moment was not the time for sleep, and I see clearly that there is no staying for you here.’ I commenced to think about his removal to a more congenial place, still determined, however, to adhere to my first judgment.

“After a week’s residence at Altenberg, I said to Brahms: ‘It is useless for you to remain in this neighborhood any longer, still I cannot go with you, because the great master is kind to me and I must continue my studies with him, therefore I will write a letter for you to Joseph Joachim, praying that he will send you to Robert Schumann, at Düsseldorf.’ He agreed to the proposition. We put our little funds together, with which Brahms was able to reach Hanover, whence he went straight to Robert Schumann with a letter of introduction from my friend Joachim.

“Strangely enough I did not hear anything from Brahms for some time; probably he forgot me (and Remenyi said it painfully). One day while sitting at dinner with Liszt (it was his habit to open his letters and newspapers while eating) he turned to me suddenly with the remark: ‘Well, Remenyi, it seems that your judgment is right, after all. Here is a letter in “The Leipsic New Musical Journal,” written by Robert Schumann, that will astonish the musical world. It says that a “new musical messiah has arrived, and that Minerva stood at the cradle of Johannes Brahms.”’ I burst into tears, for I felt in an instant that it was a recompense for the devotion and persistency with which I had unselfishly adhered to the fortunes of my friend. Liszt became very thoughtful and said nothing more. From that moment I waited for a letter from Brahms, but it never came.”

*By Upton. Published by A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, $1.75 net.

 

 

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You are reading Brahms and Remenyi. from the July, 1906 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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