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Chapter 1

A Farewell in Miniature

In the summer of 1890, Brahms said to his friend Eusebius Mandyczewski:

I’ve been tormenting myself for a long time with all kinds of

things, a symphony, chamber music and other stuff, and nothing

will come of it....I’m just not going to do anymore. My whole life

I’ve been a hard worker; now for once I’m going to be good and


(Swafford, 1997: 566)

At the time, he was working on the G Major String Quintet and probably thought the last gypsy-

style movement would be a pleasant farewell. He soon changed his mind, however, possibly

encouraged by positive reception, befriending a talented and attractive singer, Alice Barbi, or

being stunned by clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, whom he listened to in Meiningen in January of

1891. That summer in Ischl, he composed the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114 and the Clarinet Quintet,

Op. 115 for Mühlfeld, both works containing shifts between passion and the melancholy of an old

man in retrospect. Brahms took part in the performances in November, which once again brought

great success (Swafford:576). Another reversal of mood came in December, when he offered the

four-hand version of the String Quintet and announced: ‘The time has come for you to say

goodbye to any further compositions of mine’ (Musgrave, 1985: 241). In fact, after the death of

his beloved friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg in January, and his sister in June 1892, Brahms

began to age rapidly and there was a decline in vitality as well as the overwhelming urge to

create. He informed Clara, as he headed to Bad Ischl after his fifty-ninth birthday, that from then

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