Violin Concerto op. 77: facsimile of the autograph score

with introduction by Yehudi Menuhin and foreword by Jon Newsom. Library of Congress, Washington DC


There is something here for the softest heart as well as the hardest head, from the violinist's vibrant gut reaction to the scholar's more objective concern for factual data and inference. But the manuscript in question, at least as I see it, remains obstinately obscured rather than illuminated. The engraver's copy of op.77, atypically adorned with multi­coloured annotations, is here reproduced in 106 life-size pages (36 x 29 cm) with uncommon clarity of tint and texture. Less attractive is the foreword's tone of deep fawn. “For guidance on this project, the Library turned to Yehudi Menuhin who most graciously provided an eloquent and uniquely informative introduction that could only have been written by a virtuoso intimately familiar with the Concerto”, and so on. Hence presumably all the bowing and scraping. But the substance of this claim sounds just as false to me as its style. In fact, anyone sufficiently unconcerned about relevance and unfamiliar with the evidence could have written, for example, that Clara Schumann “had to face the anguish of watching her beloved husband become inexorably consumed by the very fire of his enor­mous creative gifts”. This naive diagnosis is followed by some jolly observations about Brahms's grey trousers. He had forgotten to fasten them! But this unbuttoned mood is later redressed by some bracing reflections from Arthur Abell, that Patience Strong of musical biography. We are permitted to share his “especially appealing” revelation that Brahms com­posed in a dreamlike state, without however losing consciousness, except that he sometimes fell asleep. The introduction also takes up far too much time, far my taste, on paying bland tributes lo “my teacher” or “my great teacher” or “my great master” Enesco, while seeking instruction about the actual subjects under discussion. Which came first, readers are asked-the full score, or the separate solo violin part (not reproduced here)? Was this note added in brown ink, or that in red, or the other perhaps first in brown and then in red? I fear there may be some mean-souled Philistines who for their $150 would rather have had such points elucidated by someone less eminent but better informed. Of course no such cavil could be levelled at those five pages of the introduction (about half the total) which deal solely with violin technique and apposite inference; in such passages the tone is predictably secure and masterful. But elsewhere the rather vague air is all too often a main theme. Thus Jon Newsom's three-page account of the Brahms-Joachim correspondence is, in the text I checked, unreliable. For example Brahms does not say, in his letter of 24 January 1879, that “he hopes to make still further corrections”, quite the contrary. oddest of all, perhaps, is the fact that the Library of Congress still isn't quite sure whose hands the manuscript is in, though it's been in their own for some 30 years. Prima facie the brown ink score and the crayon markings (red, grey, blue and orange) are attributable to Brahms and the red ink amendments to Joachim. But the Colour Key appended here is dim and hazy; it will venture only as far as “probably”, “possibly”, “quite possibly” or “appears to be”. And even its fair certainty that the blue pencil was wielded by Brahms himself, no doubt in the light of his experience as conductor of the first performance, is apparently disputed by Mr Menuhin, who writes of these same amendments (p.xiv) as if they were made or advocated by Joachim. That view, like his general assessment of the latter's importance in the creation of op.77, seems to me to range widely, not to say wildly, beyond the evidence. Te adopt his own inquiring tone: were no handwriting experts consulted? does no-one actually know who added what, and on whose recommendation? in the absence of clear evidence or cogent argument on those points, aren't all the conclusions highly dubious? isn't this centenary publication asking too much, in every sense?


The Musical Times, Aug., 1979 (pp. 663-664) © the estate of eric sams