Brahms, Johannes. (1833–1897)
Early Autograph Letter about the Fugue in A-flat Minor
Autograph letter in German, signed “Joh. Brahms,” two pages (recto/verso), 16mo, . Addressed "Dear (valued) friend)" [Selmar Bagge, editor of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung]. Translated in full:
"Here is the requested scrap of paper. I have no idea how many pages the printed copy will make and can only hope that it is worthwhile to go beyond the fixed amount. Otherwise, of course, there are other things at your command, but I would prefer to give you more worthwhile things. In your place I would have some fun with supplements, contrapunctal exercises, etc. which would interest some musicians!
If my fugue is accepted I suppose I may ask for a number of free copies, at least six, if possible a few more. I would like to see the revision. The Fugue remains in my possession, so that in or or two years I can sell it with its born and unborn sisters and brothers.
Your letter followed me here only yesterday. With cordial greetings for you and your wife, hurriedly yours, Joh. Brahms"
In mostly very good condition, with usual folds, small expertly repaired tear to upper left blank edge, several small losses to sheet along the central fold slightly affecting a few words, likewise expertly repaired. Autograph Collection stamp to lower blank area of p. 2 of Max Thorek (1880 – 1960) , Hungarian-American surgeon, best known for founding the International College of Surgeons in 1935.
A particularly introverted and searching work, in slow tempo and extremely sombre key, the Fugue in A-flat Minor (WoO 8) is dedicated to Clara Schumann and is one of the works which launched Brahms's historic counterpoint exchange with Joachim. In March of 1856, Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim were to embark on a mutual training exercise to improve their skills in (in Brahms's words) "double counterpoint, canons, fugues, preludes or whatever." Bozarth notes that "products of Brahms's study of counterpoint and early music over the next few years included "dance pieces, preludes and fugues for organ, and neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque choral works." "Brahms probably began work on the fugue sometime in 1855 or early in 1856. In a letter of 3 February 1855, he tells Clara he can write canons of all kinds, and is wondering what success he will have with fugues....Brahms sent the fugue in Ab minor to Joachim on 5 June, along with another fugue in A minor. The accompanying letter indicates that both had been finished for some time." (Susan Testa, "A Holograph of Johannes Brahms's Fugue in A-Flat Minor for Organ," Current Musicology; New York Vol. 0, Iss. 19, (Jan 1, 1975): 89)
"In 1864, shortly after his move to Vienna, three works from Brahms's earlier period were published, and all involved the organ. Two of these were choral works with independent organ accompaniment, Psalm xiii (op. 27 and the Geistliches Lied (op. 30), and on July 20 the Fugue in A-flat Minor, substantially edited and revised, appeared in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Neue Folge 2/29 without opus number. Selmar Bagge, the editor, was an admirer of Brahms who had asked him for a piece of music that he might publish. Possibly because he had nothing new of appropriate size at hand, Brahms decided to submit the hitherto unpublished organ fugue. He requested retention of the copyright, however, in case he might later wish to publish it together "with its born and unborn brothers and sisters," presumably other organ works. Born and unborn suggests both the existence of other unpublished organ pieces and the possibility that Brahms considered writing even more. " (Barbara Owen, "the organ music of Johannes Brahms, " p. 56)