Johannes & Clara: A love unrequited

April 8, 2014

Why is there so much allure for the music of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)? Not only is he considered a famous Romantic composer for his mastery of counterpoint, but his love life suggests he may be the most romantic man of all time! Sadly, it is said he had a lifelong, unconsummated -if not entirely unrequited- love for an older, married woman, Clara Schumann.

Brahms first met the enchanting Clara Schumann at age 20, when he arrived to stay with her and her husband, composer, Robert Schumann in 1853. While Robert was busy championing the young composer by writing articles of support, Brahms was developing a devoted, and apparently always unrequited love for Clara (1819-1896), a successful musician in her own right. Clara had been a child prodigy as a pianist, and toured playing new music by Chopin, Mendelssohn, and of course, her husband, Robert Schumann.

Brahms stayed with the Schumanns for some time before returning home. While Clara was pregnant with their eighth child in 1854, Robert broke down and was committed to an asylum. Clara needed help with household responsibilities having eight children and no husband, so it was young Brahms who dropped everything to help her. He stayed in an apartment above the Schumann home, and since Clara was not allowed to visit Robert more than a handful of times during his stay in the asylum, it was Brahms who visited Robert and acted as a go-between for the couple.

Even after Robert’s death in 1856, Brahms remained passionately close with Clara and their relationship was revealed in their letters to each other. Though from the letters it is unclear if they did have an affair, Brahms did push to have all letters destroyed, suggesting their friendship was more than platonic. Thankfully, Clara did not destroy all of the letters, and some of her and Brahms’ correspondence has since been published.

Brahms never married and died in 1897, just one year after his dear friend Clara Schumann.