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Chapter 5

Playing Brahms His Way

‘Do it how you like, but make it beautiful.’11

One consequence of research and analysis is the better understanding of a composition, in

relation to its historical context, its significance for the composer, its inner logic and the way it

holds together as a coherent whole. Another consequence, which follows from the first, is

finding out what the composer wanted to communicate and formulating ideas about

reconstructing this in the best possible way during performance. The more clues we find, the

better is the reconstruction and the closer is the performance to one which, we hope, would have

been approved by the composer. Although research has revealed much about Brahms, as to his

character, intellectual activities, compositional techniques, and his ideas about various questions

pertaining to performance issues, the more intimate workings of his musical mind have been

difficult to trace, due to his caution in destroying any documents which would enable historians

to study his own speculations. Although he did not include an abundance of markings on tempo

or expression in his works, he believed the score contained sufficient information to produce an

authentic and logical performance. He had brushed away questions relating to performance

issues by pointing to the music and replying: ‘It is all there.’12

He had similar views on tempo, staying away from metronome markings with the

comment ‘. . . the metronome is of no value. For I myself have never believed that my blood and

a mechanical instrument go well together.’13 Instead, the tempo could be determined through a

sensible interpretation of a combination of the general marking, and the character of the themes.

In fact, if the rhythms are played exactly as Brahms wrote them, the tempi reveal themselves,

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