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Brahms Manuscripts on Display in NYPL's Music Division

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Brahms manuscripts on display in the Music DivisionBrahms manuscripts on display in the Music DivisionBeginning March 21, 2012, the American Brahms Society, in conjunction with the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, will present Brahms in the New Century. This three-day conference will bring some of the most important Brahms scholars to New York to share their latest research and analytical insights.

In conjunction with this conference, the Music Division at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA) is happy to display representative items from its collection. We are fortunate to have a number of original manuscripts and manuscript material from Brahms, and many of these items are on display through next week in our third floor reading room.

Most of our Brahms manuscripts come from the collection of Paul Wittgenstein, the noted pianist whose loss of an arm during World War I led him to commission many works for just the left hand. That's probably the reason he acquired Brahms's left-hand only piano arrangement of Bach's Chaconne from Partita no. 2 for solo violin. (On display are the original manuscript and a manuscript copy with Brahms's corrections.)

Visible in the foreground of the image above is a scrap of paper with just two lines of music. This is a fragment of the cello part to Brahms's Trio no. 2, Op. 87. A note from a former owner indicates that this scrap of paper was fished out of Brahms's wastebasket.

Proof copy of Op. 116 "Fantasies" with Brahms's pencil corrections in the marginsProof copy of Op. 116 "Fantasies" with Brahms's pencil corrections in the marginsOne of the most examined items in our holdings is a proof copy of Brahms's set of piano pieces published as Op. 116 as Fantasies. (A proof copy is a pre-publication print intended for the author to make corrections.) Some pages, such as the one shown above (of the Intermezzo in E major, Op. 116, no. 4), has quite a lot of markings — all of which are in Brahms's hand.

Of all the Brahms works in manuscript, the one I find most interesting are sketches for 51 Exercises.

A rejected exercise from "51 Exercises"A rejected exercise from "51 Exercises"51 Exercises is a work you'll probably (and hopefully!) never hear in a recital. They are repetitive exercises, usually traversing all the notes of scale (diatonic and sometimes chromatic), intended for pianists to strengthen muscles and promote independence of fingers. (When I work through some of these difficult exercises at home, I think of my fingers against the piano keys as limp spaghetti wrapping itself around the prongs of a fork.)

Brahms was known to have destroyed most of his preliminary and sketch material; yet these sketches for 51 Exercises survived. In fact, the sketch pictured above is one of several that Brahms rejected from the published version. The numbers indicate various fingerings, which would result in a heavy workout for any pianist.

We welcome the many Brahms scholars who will be in New York this week, as well as members of the public who can get a rare chance to see so many Brahms manuscripts on display.

Brahms manuscripts on display in the Music DivisionBrahms manuscripts on display in the Music Division