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By the way ...





Perhaps everyone else has heard about it before, but this snippet from The Musical Times for April 1903 was new to me. The source is an anonymous article about the violinist Adolph Brodsky, dedicatee of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. One Christmas Brodsky had invited Tchaikovsky to his home, but had omitted to say that Brahms was also there in order to rehearse his Piano Trio in C minor. 'When Tchaikovsky entered the room', Brodsky recalls, 'we were in the midst of it, and he was greatly astonished to find Brahms there. They had never before met. I introduced them to each other. It would be difficult to find two men more different'. Tchaikovsky was the model of gentility - 'His voice was gentle, his manners of the most perfect politeness'. Brahms, needless to say, appeared the exact opposite - 'With his square, somewhat stout figure, hoarse voice and slightly sarcastic smile, he seemed to be an especial enemy of so-called fine manners'. Nevertheless they all seemed to get on surprisingly well and the party looked as if it was going to be a success.

Suddenly the door opened and who should walk in but Grieg and his wife. Though they had not met the great Russian before, they instantly became good friends. As everyone sat down to dinner, Madam Grieg was placed between Brahms and Tchaikovsky. She however soon rose declaring that she was far too nervous to sit between such great men. Grieg thereupon 'sprang to his feet and changed places with his wife and said "But I have the courage"'.

'So the three composers sat together and there was a great deal of fun'. Though Brahms always actively cultivated a reputation for boorishness, in fact this was seldom more than a veneer. A little later 'Brahms drew towards him the dish of strawberry jam and said that no one else should have any, and how Tchaikovsky laughed! It was more like a children's party than a group of great musicians'.

When the meal was over, Brodsky brought out a conjurer's chest 'which I had bought as a present for my little nephew and showed them the tricks. It gave them great pleasure, especially Brahms, who made me explain each trick as soon as I had performed it'.

Soon it was going-home time and the guests began to leave. 'Tchaikovsky remained behind, and as we were going out into the street I asked him: "Were you pleased with Brahms's Trio?" "Don't be vexed with me, my friend," he said, "but I don't like it."'

Perhaps he was a bit miffed at not having any of the strawberry jam!


Copyright © 15 June 2000 Richard Graves, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, UK


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