Great Composer, Lousy at Love: Brahms and his Liebeslieder Waltzes
You’ve probably heard about Brahms’s enduring relationship with Clara Schumann; you may not know as much about his affection for her daughter, Julie. His infatuation, which began seven years earlier when Julie was only 16, drove him as he sought to pen another hit—something as popular as his four-hand piano waltzes—for his publisher in the summer of 1868.
What he came up with was his Liebeslieder waltzes, a collection of 18 songs for four singers (Brahms and Julie, Robert and Clara, perhaps?) that begins with an amorous request to a young maiden and ends with these words: “My soul trembles with love, desire and grief, when it thinks of you.”
It ends up that the songs were a big hit, but clearly Julie didn’t get the message hidden in the Liebeslieder waltzes. Although he had never directly expressed his feelings for the young daughter of his mentor, Brahms was devastated when Clara announced that Julie was marrying.
Never mind that a relationship would have “verged on incestuous,” as biographer Jan Swafford put it: Brahms could barely contain his frustration. As a sarcastic “epilogue” to the Liebeslieder waltzes, he wrote “a bridal song for the Schumann countess—but I wrote it with anger, with wrath!” It was his mournful ode to lost love, the Alto Rhapsody.
On April 25, you can hear Sylvia Schwartz, Bernarda Fink, Michael Schade, and Thomas Quasthoff sing the Liebeslieder waltzes in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.