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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: May 2019

Chapter 39 - Mythmaking

from Part V - Reception and Legacy


During his lifetime, Brahms witnessed a veritable explosion in biographical writing and related publications of letters, memoirs and diaries. The monumental Allgemeine deutsche Biographie (1875–1912) was edited by Rochus von Liliencron (1820–1912), a personal acquaintance of his; a comparable project in Great Britain was the Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900). Significant biographies of famous Austro-German composers also appeared in those years, often written by Brahms’s friends: Otto Jahn’s Mozart (1856–9), Friedrich Chrysander’s Handel (1858–67), Philipp Spitta’s Bach (1873–80) and Carl Ferdinand Pohl’s Haydn (1875–82). But one might also think of the biography of Beethoven (1866–79) by the American Alexander Wheelock Thayer, a project which was taken up in German by Hermann Deiters, Jahn’s pupil and Brahms’s colleague and contemporary. It was Deiters who in 1880 wrote the first book-length biography of Brahms, when the composer still had seventeen years to live.

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Hofmann, K., ‘Sehnsucht habe ich immer nach Hamburg …’: Johannes Brahms und seine Vaterstadt: Legende und Wirklichkeit (Reinbek: Dialog-Verlag, 2003)
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Swafford, J., ‘Did the Young Brahms Play Piano in Waterfront Bars?’, 19th-Century Music 24/3 (Spring 2001), 268–75