'Jesus Christ the Apple Tree' Elizabeth Poston
30 November 2015, 16:20
The Romantic master had a mean streak and enjoyed some pretty nasty jokes at the expense of those around him.
He could write a tender melody or a heartbreaking choral movement, but during his life Johannes Brahms had a reputation as a bit of a potty mouth and a cruel wit.
Brahms' biographer Jan Swafford tells a Viennese tale that captures the meanness of the composer around his friends:
For a number of years there had been a story going around about how the composer and teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter found a scrap of the St. Matthew Passion, in Bach's own handwriting, being used as wrapping paper in a cheese shop. Johannes was in a devious mood and wanted to prank one of his musical circle.
The composer's good friend Gustav Nottebohm was a prominent Beethoven scholar of the time. On a scrap of old manuscript paper, Brahms jotted down a few notes, imitating Beethoven's handwriting. The composer took the scrawl and bribed a street vendor to wrap the manuscript around a sausage and sell it to his Beethoven-loving pal.
As Nottebohm approached, Brahms took cover from a distance to watch the scholar buy and unwrap the sausage. Nottebohm then stepped under a streetlight to examine the paper, gasping in amazement at his chance find. He slipped his new-found Beethoven treasure into his pocket, finishing the greasy sausage barehanded, and hurried home to examine the manuscript.
Presumably the composer, still looking on, enjoyed every moment of it. *Cue evil Brahmsian laughter*