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The Tightrope Walker


Johannes Brahms held his gruffness at bay when writing to thank Elizabet von Herzogenberg for sending some duets her husband Heinz had written, music that Brahms didn’t entirely care for. His reply also included some of his own choral songs, plus a copy of a “very special favorite”–Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. Brahms wrote from Vienna to Elizabet in Leipzig on December 21, 1883:

Today I’ll just write two lines of thanks for your parcel full of interesting things. If I take them to the piano, I am transported to your pleasant comfortable rooms, and can distinctly hear your very sweet singing. But if, like a real German, I start to grumble, an alarm sounds in my head and I think, “You’d better be quiet. All of those misgivings apply equally to you, too, and your own music has such a dreadful bachelor ring as well!”

I’ll be able to spill some of the grumbling to Heinz without exposing my thoughts too much….

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His music, or his way of writing, often reminds me of his charming rhymes,, and, now that I remember, I particularly want you to save up all his Christmas verses this year for me to read.

I have suddenly decided to send you a few songs. I hardly know whether to ask you to forward them to publisher Simrock.

Maybe you will favor me with your candid opinion of them? I am also sending you a beautiful work by Georg Muffat, which you may not know. I now have the original edition, so you don’t need to keep a copy.

Beside which I am asking Simrock to send you one of my very special favorites. I can’t get it here in its original garb (that is, language), and have never seen it at your house. If you should fail to share my enthusiasm, I shall be happy to tuck it under my arm and carry it off again in February.