IN 1826 JOHANN JAKOB BRAHMS, aged nineteen, his gray eyes full of hope and good humor, arrived in the port of Hamburg carrying musical instruments and a Certificate of Apprenticeship. Lire la première page
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45 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A great portrait of a MAN, not a COMPOSER19 janvier 2001
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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. He had a fascinating life, with a great deal of personal intrigue, and a great unrequited love story spanning most of his adult life with Clara Schumann. As a musician, I appreciated the clear and understandable way that Swafford writes about the music of Brahms. His musical analysis is of sufficient depth for the me, and is not "dumbed down" material for the reader who is not musically trained. The best reason to purchase this book is the great and interesting man (and composer) who is examined. I highly recommend this book.
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Swafford's Brahms Ignores Recent Scholarship18 janvier 2000
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Swafford's Brahms biography is certainly readable, and the author displays great sympathy with his subject. The problem with this book is that the author perpetuates-- even exaggerates-- a picture of Brahms that is now under serious revision. I don't know if Swafford is entirely to blame, as it is difficult to know to which documents he had access at the time of his writing. But recent work by Kurt Hoffman, and Styra Avin's edition of Brahms's letters show that the usual conception of Brahms's childhood as poverty-stricken and neglected is very inaccurate; and Swafford takes off from this picture of a pitiful childhood as a central principle in Brahms's life, relationships, etc. Hoffman has shown that Brahms could not have played the piano in brothels as a boy, yet Swafford paints us a lugubrious picture of young Brahms possibly suffering sexual trauma at the hands of both the prostitutes and their patrons. Avins's translations of Brahms's letters show us that Brahms had a warm and affectionate relationship with his parents, who did depend upon him to augment the family income, but knew when enough was enough for the boy, and did their best to give him a good education, plenty of diversion and rest. Avins's book has an illustration of Brahms's exquisite handwriting at age nine, which clearly shows that he had been meticulously schooled. Swafford's book is clearly a labor of great love, but _caveat emptor_.
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The Wisdom Of Solomon3 janvier 2001
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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. The styles have a lot in common. Both authors write mostly with the lay reader in mind, so even someone like me who doesn't have any background in music can still enjoy the books. Both authors are interested in psychological reasons for behavior and, in my opinion, make convincing arguments concerning certain personality traits of these great musicians. However, both authors are also aware that some of the people that read these books are knowledgeable about music, so there are brief sections that get into technical analysis of the music. Solomon did this by including short chapters scattered throughout his book, devoted solely to musical analysis. Swafford chose to incorporate his musical analysis within the general flow of the book, a few paragraphs at a time. As a lay reader, I liked Swafford's approach better. Since I pretty much didn't understand the technical aspects, it was less boring to have this stuff just a little bit at a time! Swafford's book has two great strengths, besides the fact that he writes beautifully. He goes into detail concerning Brahms relationship with Clara Schumann, a friendship which lasted for approximately 40 years. The second strength is that piece by piece he builds up a picture of Brahms the man so that by the end of the book you will feel that you knew Brahms. The picture is well-rounded, too. Brahms could be rude and arrogant but he also could be sensitive and humble and generous. He also had a tremendous sense of humor. He was very witty, both in his conversation and in his correspondence. He was also a great practical joker. Swafford relates a story about the time Brahms went to lunch with a friend, who happened to be a Beethoven scholar. Brahms, before the lunch, had taken a popular song of the day and written it out in musical notation, but he did this imitating Beethoven's handwriting. He made arrangements for the fellow that waited on them in the restaurant to wrap up the scholar's takeout lunch in the "Beethoven" score. Brahms was quite amused when he saw the expression on his friend's face as he unwrapped his lunch and without saying a word, carefully folded up the score and just put it in his pocket. He probably thought he had made a great discovery until he got the score home and actually got to read the music! This was easily one of the best books I read last year and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who loves good biography, even if you don't know anything about music!
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Swafford's Brahms22 février 2005
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I read Jan Swafford's monumental 1997 biography of Johannes Brahms (1833 --1897) after reading his biography of the American composer Charles Ives and after reading the 1991 biography of Brahms by Malcolm MacDonald. Swafford has written an outstanding biography of Brahms and a through, perceptive consideration of his music. But greater than either of these accomplishments, his book brings Brahms and late ninetheenth century Vienna to life. Swafford has given a great deal of thought to Brahms, and his book helped me think about the nature of creative gifts, about the relationship between love and calling, and about many matters that are much broader than either biography or music.
Swafford gives a great deal of attention to two formative experiences of young Brahms: 1. his childhood of poverty in Hamburg where he played as a pre-adolescent in dives frequented by prostitutes and sailors (this account has been questioned by some writers) and 2. Robert Schumann's article about Brahms at the age of 20, heralding the young man as the heir to Beethoven and predicting a brilliant future for him.
Swafford's book emphasizes Brahms's difficulties throghout life in forming a lasting, sexual relationship with a woman other than prostitutes. Brahms exhibited to sort of behavior towards women frequently described in terms of "The Virgin and the Whore." Brahms could only be physically intimate with women he did not respect. Thus, Brahms ultimately rejected the romantic opportunities that came his way in the persons of Clara Schumann and Agathe von Siebold, among other women. He withdrew into a protective shell when friendships with women threatened to become romantic. Yet women were the greatest source of inspiration to Brahms as a composer. He poured into his music what he denied himself as a man. A crusty figure, Brahms was difficult to know intimately, particularly by women.
The article by Robert Schumann made Brahms famous from the age of twenty before he had done much. Great things were expected of Brahms, but Schumann's praise burdened the fledgling composer with the fear that he would disappoint Schumann's hopes in him. Brahms worked slowly and became an astonishing musical craftsman; but he felt he had to justify Schumann's confidence as well as meet the standards of the great composers of the past, especially Beethoven.
There is a wealth of discussion in this book of Brahms' relationships with both Clara and Robert Schumann, their daughter Julie, the violinist Joachim, the critic Hanslick, Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and many others. The book is set in the last years of liberal Vienna, and Swafford poignantly draws the relationship between Brahms's music and the rise of irrationality, anti-semitism, and violence that would soon plague the Twentieth Century.
I found Swafford's discussions of Brahms music highly insightful. It is less detailed, perhaps, than Malcolm MacMacDonald's study which discusses virtually every work of Brahms; but there is ample material here to form a basis for an exploration and appreciation of Brahms's music. Brahms' romanticism and his musical formalism and learning are well-explored and tied in with a consideration of his major works. Swafford's most thorough musical discussions are of the four symphonies, and he tends to move quicker over Brahms's songs. (This was also the case in Swafford's book on Ives.)
I felt I got to know Brahms, in spite of himself, in this book. Brahms devoted himself wholeheartedly to his art, and in the process lost a great deal of the value of human love and human sexual closeness. It was and remains a difficult exchange. More than encouraging the reader to get to know and love Brahms's music, Swafford's biography will help the reader think about and try to compassionately understand people.
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Arguably the best Brahms biography yet10 mars 1998
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For most of us, Geiringer is "the" Brahms biography and, admittedly, it is still unsurpassed. However, Swafford has done a superb job of giving us Brahms' life with the smooth narrative of a novel. Each page and chapter flows gracefully into the next as a Brahms adagio between an allegro and a scherzo. Some reviewers have cited too much detail. It only lets us know our subject all that much better. And, for that, so much the better. If Swafford has a failing, it is a lack of musical analyses of the music but, let me add, that, while he quotes few musical passages, his discussion of the major works will win Brahms new admirers. The rest of us can return to our scores. And I think Swafford is right. He appeals to a broad, rather than a select, audience but please don't misunderstand that to mean he is of little interest to the musicians. Far from it! His discussions of the gestation and creation (something not easy for Brahms) of the major works reads like a detective novel. I congratulate Swafford on a splendid biography, the only modern one that can stand alongside Geiringer, and recommend it to all music lovers.