I have played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard!
– Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1886
What happens when you finally come face-to-face with the man you’ve been trash-talking all your life? Especially when the feeling is mutual? Our newest Video(s) of the Week installment celebrates the dual-May-7 birthdays of two of the most famous composers of the late-19th century, who had no use for each other…until they finally and rather unexpectedly met at a Christmas party in 1887.
The two men were brought together by the celebrated violinist Adolph Brodsky, who was preparing to perform both Brahms Double Concerto and the Piano Trio in C major (see below!) at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Brodsky’s wife recalled the scene…
In the midst of the rehearsal I heard a ring at the bell, and expecting it would be Tchaikovsky, rushed to open the door. He was quite perplexed by the sound of music, asked who was there, and what they were playing. I took him into the room adjoining and tried to break, gently, the news of Brahms’ presence. As we spoke there was a pause in the music; I begged him to enter, but he felt too nervous, so I opened the door softly and called my husband. He took Tchaikovsky with him and I followed. Tchaikovsky and Brahms had never met before. It would be difficult to find two men more unlike. Tchaikovsky, a nobleman by birth, had something elegant and refined in his whole bearing and the greatest courtesy of manner. Brahms with his short, rather square figure and powerful head, was an image of strength and energy; he was an avowed foe to all so-called “good manners.” His expression was often slightly sarcastic. When A. B. introduced them, Tchaikovsky said, in his soft melodious voice: “Do I not disturb you?” “Not in the least,” was Brahms’ reply, with his peculiar hoarseness. “But why are you going to hear this? It is not at all interesting.” Tchaikovsky sat down and listened attentively.
And thus rather suprisingly, a personal friendship was born. Tchaikovsky wrote to a friend, “Brahms’s manner is very simple, free from vanity, his humor jovial, and the few hours spent in his society left me with a very agreeable recollection.”
But the disdain for each other’s music remained unchanged. Not for lack of effort, though: Brahms took it upon himself to attend a rehearsal of the Russian composer’s Fifth Symphony. Eyewitnesses reported that Brahms nodded off at times during the rehearsal, but nonetheless invited Tchaikovsky to lunch to provide what he termed “some honest feedback — he found the final movement to be lacking.” According pianist Zygmunt Stojowski, a mutual friend of both composers, Tchaikovsky was not offended at all: “Tchaikovsky’s comment to me was that he would have been deeply hurt had he not, himself, frankly hated the Brahms symphonies! But ever since, he kept a high esteem for Brahms, the honest and straightforward man.”
So, in the spirit of fair play, check out this video of the Trio being rehearsed the day that Tchaikovsy and Brahms finally met, featuring the legendary cellist and teacher Laurence Lesser, joined by Heifetz student Michelle Shin and faculty pianist Carlos Avila:
…..followed by Heifetz student Christine J. Lee, joining pianist Dina Vainshtein in the Pezzo Cappriccioso, Op. 62, composed the same year Brahms and Tchaikovsky first met!
Remember, if you enjoy our Video of the Week feature, you can check out the entire series here – and subscribe to get them in your inbox every week!