Thursday, 15 November 2018


Johannes Brahms as he would have appeared
in 1868. (Unknown, c. 1866)

A recent unknown, hitherto unpublished letter authored by the 19th century German composer Johannes Brahms has surfaced, the Brahms Institute at the Musikhochschule Lübeck (MHL) announced Tuesday.

The three-page, self-authored document, written in Kurrentschrift is dated 14 October, 1868 - it's recipient the renowned chanteuse Maria Schmidt of Zurich, whom Brahms addresses in cheeky salutation: "Dear Miss, (read: Madame)" - a reference to the singer's recent wedding to composer and pianist Theodor Kirchner, a confidante of Johannes.

MHL director, Prof. Wolfgang Sandberger highlighted the significance of the recent acquisition whilst speaking to the press in Lübeck:

"The letter fits perfectly into our collection, which includes [documents related to] Theodor Kirchner. The letter shows how virtuosically Brahms, who was repeatedly depicted as a lazy writer, really dominated the genre of letters...they show him as one of the great letter writers of the 19th century, as a master of irony, masking and obfuscation."

*CLICK TO ENLARGE* First of three pages:
Brahms letter to Maria Schmidt[1]
| Brahms-Institut Lübeck |

Indeed, Brahms follows his greeting to "Madame" Kirchner with the coy subtext "[the] metamorphosis indicated above is just [noted] between writing and reading" - a sly reference to the singer's sudden shift of status from Fräulein to Frau. Kirchner's union with Schmidt had come as a surprise to those within the pianists inner circle, including to Brahms himself, who had introduced the pair to one another. 

Theodor had infamously griped over the couple's engagement in a letter to the writer and muse of Richard Wagner, Mathilde Wesendonck in June 1868 that he had "no choice but to be released from an embarrassing situation." Nary three months later, the pair were walking down the aisle in the Neumünster Church in Zurich-Riesau.

Initially, Brahms' letter to Schmidt never reached its intended recipient - it would be returned to sender, whereupon the composer would add to the document, addressing not only Maria, but also greeting Theodor before once more sending the written exchange back to Zurich in February 1869.

Maria Schmidt | Brahms-Institut Lübeck |
The present letter, discovered in an American antiquarian bookshop, was acquired by the Brahms Institute through the support of the Association for the Promotion of the Brahms Institute Lübeck. It joins the so called 'Hofmann' collection at MHL - a veritable cornucopia of Kirchner regalia consisting of 36 music autographs, several hundred sketch sheets and designs, the extensive collection of first and early prints of his works as well as numerous documents and life documents acquired through the estate of Conrad Hanns, Kirchner's latest pupil. Hanns had been bequeathed a sizable share of memorabilia related to his former professor upon the latters' death.

The Brahms-Schmidt letter is now listed in the Brahms-Briefwechsel-Verzeichnis (BBV).[2] Its discovery completes the 'Hofmann' Collection, which may be viewed online in digital form at

Brahms would score great success with the premiere performance (of the first six movements) of Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) in 1868, the same year in which the letter to Schmidt was written. The performance would be held, to much acclaim, at the Bremen Cathedral on the 10th of April, Good Friday, with Julius Stockhausen as baritone soloist, and with Brahms himself at the helm. Listen below to the gorgeous third movement (I) of the Requiem "Herr, lehre doch mich" (Lord, Teach Me) as performed by American baritone Thomas Hampson, the Wiener Symphoniker and Wiener Staatsopernchor under maestro Harnoncourt (Vienna, 1988):

[1]Partial text (Deutsche Kurrentschrift):

"14. Oct. / Sehr geehrtes Fräulein (lies: gnädige Frau) d. 15 (author's note: "d. 15" is in reference to the date of the wedding that October of Kirchner to Schmidt, which was forthcoming. Translation: "Dear Miss (read: Madame))

Ihr liebes Schreiben kommt mir durch einen Zufall verspätet zu... oben angedeutete Metamorphose grade zwischen Schreiben [und] Lesen" (author's note: direct translation, paraphrase (omissions of unintelligible text indicated by ellipses) "Your dear letter comes to me late by accidental delay...[the] metamorphosis indicated above is just [noted] between writing and reading...")
[2]Inv.-Nr. 2018.070a; INCIPIT: "[Glückwunsch zur Hochzeit]"
External link:
- Rose.

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