Column: From Heavenly Harmony
The Fleeing of Sorrow
by Ken Myers
In January of 1865, in Hamburg, Christiane Brahms suffered a stroke. Her youngest son, Fritz, immediately sent off a telegram to his brother, then living and working in Vienna, urging him to return home. Shortly before Johannes Brahms got to his mother's bedside, she died. Deeply stricken, the 32-year-old Brahms was suddenly faced with the tasks of arranging for her funeral and assuring that other family members were cared for.
He eventually returned to Vienna and his musical life, but at this time, Brahms's reputation as a significant composer had not yet been confirmed. His ambitious and demanding D-minor Piano Concerto, premiered in 1859, had received a less than enthusiastic (sometimes downright hostile) response from the public and the critics. In 1853, Robert Schumann—an influential music critic as well as a composer and conductor—had enthusiastically championed the young Brahms, publicly proclaiming him a musical genius "destined to give ideal expression to the times." But Schumann's suicide attempt in February 1854, his tormented mental deterioration, and his subsequent death (in July 1856) had acquainted his young protégé with grief. Now his mother's death delivered Johannes Brahms another blow.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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