A morning prayer? A lament? A melancholic longing? Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor (Op. 38) strikes a deeply Romantic chord in my heart. The coexistence of distance and intimacy, of deep emotions and profound respect, these are weaved into the tissue of tragedy. What exactly did the composer have in mind? I don’t know. Brahms started to write in 1862 and finished it in 1865. In the meantime he had moved from Germany to Vienna, met Richard Wagner and at the end of 1865, Brahms’ mother had died.
Art nurturing art – glorious moments. In 1890 Johannes Brahms heard the German clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, widely acclaimed for his musical sensitivity and his expressive way to play his instrument. The composer was deeply impressed by Mühlfeld’s talent. Mühlfeld had suggested to Brahms to write a piece of chamber music for the clarinet and the composer gladly took up the idea. Inspiration had struck. Between May and June 1891 he wrote the Trio in A minor for piano, clarinet and cello (Op. 114) while spending the summer in the Austrian resort of Ischl.
Death has invaded my life. Some five years ago, a friend died. He was younger than I was. A little over a year ago, another friend died. He too was younger than I was. A few days ago, a friend’s father died. Death has crossed a threshold and left the sphere of the abstract, it rippled the peaceful flow of my life. I am not afraid, no. But my awareness of my own mortality has increased. For the first time, thinking about man’s mortality kept me from sleeping. The dead are no longer the anonymous victims of far away wars, natural disasters, car accidents or social precariousness. The dead have a face now, a familiar face and a familiar voice.
Herr: Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Früchten, voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.1