Brahms’ post-concert adventure

Brahms was invited to the family of one of his students, Fräulein von Meyensbug, in Detmol :

The Meysenbug ladies proved very prim and conventional. Brahms was ill at ease. He was so afraid of shocking his aristocratic hostesses that he hardly knew what to say or how to behave. Their young nephew Carl, however, with whom he soon struck up a friendship, was ready for fun.

The family had close connections at the court of Detmold, and the evening after his arrival Brahms was invited at play at a court concert. His performance made a fine impression on the royal family. But Kapellmeister Kiel, who was director of music at Detmold an a pompous old soul, decided that the twenty-three year-old visitor was much overrated. Did this young upstart imagine that no one else could compose music but himself?

“I have been occupied with setting a number of Bible texts to music,” Herr Kiel announced importantly. He fixed Johannes with a haughty stare. “Some of the Scriptural expressions elude me. Githith, for instance. Herr Brahms,you seem to know so much. Could you tell me what a Githith is?”

Johannes knew his Bible backward and forwards. He winked at young Carl. “Probably it means’ a pretty Jewish girl,'” he answered solemnly.

After the concert, Brahms and a number of others went to a tavern. Carol von Meysenbug was supposed to be at home, in bed. But he had managed to escape from his aunt’s watchful eyes and waned to make the most of his freedom. When the party left the tavern at dawn he said “It’s too late to go to bed now. Let’s walk to the country and see the sun rise. I’ve never stayed out all night before,” he added gleefully. “Wouldn’t my aunts be scandalized!”

Brahms was always ready for a walk. Just as they were, in full evening dress, they started out. After sauntering for some distance they came to a small wayside inn. Adjoining it was a trellised arbor with table and benches. By this time Carl’s enthusiasm had worn off. “What do you say to a little rest?” he asked.

The young men stretched out on the benches and fell fast asleep. Presently the sun rose; still they slept on. A small brown spaniel trotted by and looked inquiringly at the two sleepers. He stood up on his hind legs and gently licked the nose of the fair-haired stranger.

Heavens!” cried Brahms, sitting up suddenly. He shook his companion by the shoulder. “Do you realize it’s broad daylight? We’re far from home – and look how we’re dressed!”

They hurried back to Detmold. Just as they arrived at the Meysenbug’s house, hoping to slip in by a side door unobserved, “there – oh, horror!” wrote Carl describing the adventure,”we suddenly came upon my aunt setting out for her morning walk. A cold glance of righteous indignation traveled up and down the two night-enthusiasts; for our attire betrayed but too clearly that we had not been back since the previous evening. During the day a stormy atmosphere prevailed in the house of hospitable ladies, who were not only unused to visits from me, but never could have imagined that the ideal artist would commit himself to such extravagencies. I was severely censured by grandmother and aunts as the harebrained youth who had led the honored guest astray. Brahms left the next day, not having been very warmly pressed to prolong his visit!”

Source: Goss, Madeleine (1943). Brahms: The Master. New York: Hery Holt & Company, pp. 154-156.