Relationship magic at the Brahms Institute



A visit to Johannes Brahms’ music room.

In any case, it almost feels as if I really am a guest of Brahms. In the Villa Eschenburg, which was built in 1803 in the classicist style and is home to the Brahms Institute at the University of Music Lübeck, which was founded in 1990, I can visit today for the Lübeck ZWISCHENZEILEN The curator of the current exhibition “Relationship Magic”, music librarian Stefan Weymar, not only provides details on the concept of the “Relationship Magic” exhibition, but also tells us a great deal about Johannes Brahms as a person.

The Hofmann Collection

First of all, i ASK MYSELF; why there is theBrahms Institute at the University of Music in Lübeck, since the composer did not have a particularly close relationship with Lübeck and was here only once. His concert with the singer Julius Stockhausen took place in 1868 in what was then the Casino. The decisive factor for the founding of the institute was the acquisition of the extensive private collection of the couple Kurt and Renate Hofmann by the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Both have been working on researching the legacy of Johannes Brahms for many decades. The collection of the Brahms Institute documents an important part of German-Austrian music history in the second half of the 19th century, and it continues to grow.

Valuable manuscripts, first and early printings, letters from artists, friends and contemporaries of Brahms, photographs and drawings, concert program notes for important performances are stored in the safe deposit boxes of the institute. Many of the documents come directly from the estate of Johannes Brahms. On the platform finding Brahms alone, over 12,000 units are entered, comprising around 41,000 digital copies. It seems almost unbelievable to me that it’s possible to keep an overview at all. With the help of theplatform, Brahms’ specialists and laymen alike can research the database free of charge. In addition to the further digitization of the precious documents, the team of the institute around Prof. Wolfgang Sandberger also strives to expand the collection. Often letters have to be bought at auction. A three-page letter with the composer’s signature, for example, can cost between €5,000 and €6,000, Stefan Weymar tells me.


” Listening tip: Brahms Festival 2021; in conversation with Prof. Dr. Sandberger at the Brahms Villa Lübeck

Brahms the coffee addict

We stroll through the rooms of the stylish Villa Brahms. A real treasure, which is not even known to many people in Lübeck. In any case, the Brahms figure at the boules court on Wallstraße points in completely the wrong direction.

Stefan Weymar tells me about Johannes Brahms as if he had met him for dinner only yesterday. It must be great to be able to devote yourself so intensively to a single subject. I almost envy him for that. A wall-sized photo shows a painting of Brahms’ music room at Karlsgasse 4 with a view of the Karlskirche in Vienna, where he was at home from 1871 until the end of his life in two simply furnished rooms. My gaze falls on a bust of Beethoven – the great role model. On a portrait of Bismarck, but also on two coffee machines. Brahms loved coffee and brewed it himself, explains Stefan Weymar. He said he was as happy as a child about the electric light installed by friends as a surprise. “This is magic!” Brahms had shouted over and over again, turning the lights on and off all night.

A visit to the Brahms Institute in Lübeck

Brahms remained a modest North German throughout his life. Even after he had become a rich man and enjoyed world fame with the “German Requiem” based on biblical texts and the “Hungarian Dances” set by him. Set, not composed. Brahms wrote to his publisher Fritz Simrock that “he did not father these Pußta and Gypsy children, but only raised them with milk and bread. To this day, the dances are played and loved all over the world.

Outwardly, the composer had often appeared closed and downright sarcastic. In the circle of his friends, however, Brahms showed himself to be an epicure who loved eggnog and chocolate. What exactly was the state of his relationship with Clara Schumann, who was 14 years his senior? They were bound to each other in friendship. Brahms admired the pianist. Was it more than friendship? We will never know. Brahms and women. He was in love quite often, but ultimately a person with a certain fear of relationships. Thus he wrote to the Göttingen professor’s daughter Agathe von Siebold, to whom he was briefly engaged, “Fesseln tragen kann ich nicht” (“I cannot wear fetters”).

The current exhibition “Relationship magic

The thematic bracket for the current exhibition is therefore the network of relationships surrounding Johannes Brahms. Brahms had over 1,000 pen pals. Companions, close confidants, artistic personalities, admirers and ladies he admired are presented. The focus is on dedicatory compositions of close friends and admiring colleagues. About 100 compositions were dedicated to Brahms during his lifetime. In accordance with the custom of the time, it was customary to first politely ask the artist for permission to work on a composition of his or her own and to “amicably” or “reverentially” appropriate it to him or her.

“Now I dare to make a reverent request to you, esteemed master. Allow me to offer you the dedication of my D minor quartet out of gratitude and deepest respect for your incomparable creations!”

Antonín Dvořák to Johannes Brahms in January 1878

Each exhibit tells its own multifaceted story. In Brahms’ address book shown, the entries were interestingly arranged by city. Precious first prints in the showcases in the Garden Hall attest to the close relationships between contemporaries. By the way, the “relationship magic” can be discovered not only on site, but also digitally.

In the winter garden, I settle down at one of the listening stations to enjoy Brahms musically as well. My gaze wanders over the beautiful summer greenery in the garden of the villa. Wicker chairs invite you to linger. A wonderful place to let what you see have a deeper effect. And to look forward to the next Brahms Festival from May 7 to 15, 2022. The “relationship magic” can be experienced at Villa Brahms until December 15 and online until the end of the year. Open always on Wednesday and Saturday from 14-18.

P.S. By the way, I found something pretty crazy here:

Leave a Comment

written by:

Barbara Schwartz