Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, June 12

Brahms and Liszt

Synopsis

In Cockney rhyming slang, being "Brahms and Liszt" means being tipsy.

But during the latter half of the 19th century, for many passionate music lovers, the phrase "Brahms and Liszt" signified opposite—and mutually exclusive—tastes in contemporary music. Oddly enough, it was the younger German, Johannes Brahms, who represented the more conservative, traditionally structured side of the spectrum, while the older Hungarian, Franz Liszt, represented a freer, less structured style, dubbed "the music of the future."

Brahms and Liszt first met on today's date in 1853, when Liszt was 41 and Brahms just 20 years old. The young American composer and pianist William Mason, also in his 20s, was present at the meeting, which took place at Liszt's home in Weimar. Mason recalled the historic encounter in his memoirs.

Liszt read at sight the manuscript of one of Brahms' early piano pieces, and praised the young composer's work. When pressed by those present for some of his own music, Liszt began playing his recently completed Sonata in B-Minor, arguably one of his finest works. Midway through the piece it became embarrassingly apparent that the young Johannes Brahms had fallen asleep in his chair.

Maybe it was the summer heat, perhaps sleep deprivation—or maybe, as some must have thought at the time, Brahms was just bored. In any case, Liszt was understandably miffed, and after finishing his Sonata, rose from the piano and left the room without a word.

Music Played in Today's Program

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) Ballade No. 3, Op. 10 Lars Vogt, piano EMI 57125

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) Piano Sonata in b Jeno Jando, piano Naxos 8.550510

Additional Information

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