Composers Datebook®

Brahms the Perfectionist

Composer's Datebook - May 23, 2023


Some famous composers were notorious perfectionists – and then there was Johannes Brahms, the Perfectionist of Perfectionists. He spent 14 years tinkering with the score of his First Symphony, remember.

Brahms once claimed he had written and discarded twenty string quartets before publishing his first two in the year 1873. To say Brahms was his own severest critic would be putting it mildly, but there was one other person whose opinion Brahms valued above all others, and that was Clara Schumann, one of the finest pianists of her day, the widow of his mentor Robert Schumann, and a fine composer in her own right.

So it comes as no surprise that the Third String Quartet of Brahms, the Quartet in B- flat Major, published as his Opus 67, was first performed as a kind of “test run” at the Berlin home of Clara Schumann on today’s date in the year 1876. The performers were the famous Joachim Quartet, led by violinist Joseph Joachim, a long-time friend of Brahms.

Unlike his preceding quartets, both austere and introspective works, this one was light-hearted and cheerful – "a useless trifle," as Brahms himself put it, adding it was just his way to "avoid facing the serious countenance of a symphony."

Music Played in Today's Program

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) String Quartet No. 3 in Bb, Op. 67

On This Day


  • 1794 - Bohemian composer and pianist Ignaz Moscheles, in Prague;

  • 1864 - Danish composer Louis Glass, in Frederiksberg;

  • 1901 - English composer Edmund Rubbra, in Northhampton;

  • 1912 - French composer and pianist Jean Françaix, in Le Mans; The composer himself has written that his family name is pronounced with the final "x" sounded (as in "Aix"-en-Provence), although is commonly pronounced "Français" in both Europe and America;

  • 1934 - American electronic engineer and inventor, Robert Moog (pronounced: "Mohg"), inventor of the synthesizer bearing his name which was made famous by performers such as Wendy Carlos (of "Switched-On Bach" fame);


  • 1736 - Handel: opera "Atalanta" (Julian date: May 12);

  • 1814 - Beethoven: "Fidelio" Overture, in Vienna, as part of a third and final revision of the opera "Fidelio," at the Kärntnertor Theater;

  • 1876 - Brahms: String Quartet No. 3, in Berlin at the home of Clara Schumann by the Joachim Quartet; The work was subsequently performed for a small circle of friends at the Joachim home on June 4 that year, and given its first public performance in Berlin on October 30, 1876, again by the Joachim Quartet;

  • 1883 - Tchaikovsky: "Festival Coronation March," in Moscow (Gregorian date June 4);

  • 1926 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 8, in Moscow;

  • 1937 - William Grant Still: "Lenox Avenue" for narrator and orchestra, broadcast over the CBS radio network, with Howard Barlow conducting;

  • 1943 - Barber: "Commando March," in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with Army Air Force Technical Training Command Band, composer conducting;

  • 1971 - Einem: "Der Besuch der alten Damen" (The Visit of the Old Lady), at the Vienna State Opera;

  • 1971 - Sessions: cantata "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (after Walt Whitman), in Berkley, Calif.;

  • 1993 - Daniel Pinkham: "Nocturnes" for flute and guitar, at the First and Second Church in Boston, by flutist Fenwick Smith and guitarist John Curtis;


  • 1826 - American premiere of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" at New York City's Park Theater, presented by members of the Garcia family with Lorenzo da Ponte (Mozart's librettist) in the audience.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®