Johannes Brahms musical dedication discovered in Sechelt
Copyright ©2005 By Allan Crane
Allan Crane writes about the sale of a musical dedication by Brahms to Huberman. The note was written on the evening that Huberman performed the Brahms concerto in the presence of the composer - you can read more about this incident in the biography section.
The photograph shows Joan Payne (Huberman’s grand-daughter) and Allan Crane with the valuable Brahms autograph.
I soon discovered that Joan’s maiden name was Huberman. Joan Payne came to the Sunshine Coast in 1974 as a new teacher at Gibsons Elementary School. I was District Librarian/Coordinator of Educational Resources for School District No. 46 (Sechelt) at the time. Books, records, films and so on were my stock in trade, and I was then, as I still am, an avid record collector. Although my collecting interests are in the area of opera and concert singers, I was aware of the renowned violinist and visionary Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947).
Huberman had one child, a son, John, who was born in Vienna but grew up in Hungary with his mother Elza Galafrés a renowned actress. She and Huberman were divorced when John was still a child. As a young adult, John Huberman, a qualified engineer, moved to Vancouver, B.C. where he was involved in mill management. Joan was John’s only child, born in New Westminster from her father’s first marriage. She met her famous grandfather only once, shortly before his death when she was about three. Her father had a twenty-year second marriage to the noted Canadian composer Barbara Pentland who died in 2002 having outlived her husband by four years.
It was 30 years after I first met Joan that I became aware of the Johannes Brahms connection in Sechelt, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. Sechelt, by the way, is close to Vancouver (see map) but is only accessible by water or by air. Joan moved there in 2003.
She asked me to help her sell a framed autograph of Johannes Brahms. What a thrill it was to hold in my hand this attractive musical quotation and dedication in Brahms own hand. He wrote this in 1896 for Bronislaw Huberman expressing his pleasurable amazement and surprise with the then 13 year-old prodigy's performance of his violin concerto, Op. 77 in Vienna’s Grosse Musikvereins-saal.
Brahms is sometimes depicted as moody and misanthropic, certainly not as someone likely to love children or gush over child prodigies. Apparently he was reluctant to attend the concert featuring young Huberman on January 29,1896, but musical Vienna was out in force for the event. Anton Bruckner, Alfred Grűnfeld, Eduard Hanslick, Carl Loewe, Gustave Mahler, Hans Richter, Johan Strauss (II) were just half a dozen of the celebrities attending in addition to the composer himself.
At this time, Brahms was old beyond his 62 years, and had little over a year to live before succumbing to the liver cancer from which he was suffering. His expectations were not high. From the enthusiasm and affection with which he greeted the young Huberman immediately after the performance, however, it is evident that he was deeply moved. Brahms biographer Max Kalbeck chronicles the event in his massive four-volume biography:
“As soon as Brahms heard the sound of the violin, he pricked up his ears; during the Andante, he wiped his eyes; and after the Finale, he went into the green room, embraced the young fellow, and stroked his cheeks. When Huberman complained that the public applauded after the cadenza, breaking into the lovely Cantilena, Brahms replied, “You should not have played the cadenza so beautifully.”
Brahms then wrote out the first four bars, the opening melody of his violin concerto, which is also used in the cantilena to which Huberman referred and elsewhere. Under this, Brahms wrote: “Zur freundlichen Erinnerung von Ihrem vergnügten und dankbaren Zuhören 29 January 1896,” and boldly signed his dedication - Johannes Brahms. (“In fond memory from your overjoyed and thankful listener.”
We cannot be certain as to what he actually wote on. A music consultant at Sotheby’s, London, believes it was written on a piece of paper torn from a larger leaf out of a booklet or even a programme.. “No doubt Brahms just took what was closest at hand at the time and made use of it in a spontaneous way,” he says.
A dedicated photograph that Brahms gave to Huberman a few days after the concert is well-known, but this earlier, spontaneous expression is much more attractive. It has remained in the family undocumented and unknown for a hundred and eight years. Joan recalls that it was kept in her father’s bedroom and was never publicly exhibited. She has had it since her father died, but only recently decided to sell it.
So Brahms has left Sechelt. The striking musical autograph of which I’ve been writing will be offered for sale at auction in Sotheby’s May 20 Musical Manuscripts sale in the company’s New Bond Street galleries, London. You can learn more about it from www.sothebys.com.