21 November 2012
BRAHMS, Johannes (1833-1897). Autograph letter signed to [Dr Adolph Kauffman], n.p., April 1879. two pages, 8vo, bifolium (short tears at folds and upper margin, repaired with tape). Provenance: collection of Dr Fritz and Dita Callomon, and thence by gift.
A letter of thanks, and the seeds of the Academic Festival Overture. Brahms has 'a heartfelt need, but unfortunately, being on the road, little time and patience' to express thanks for the honour conferred upon him [the Honorary Doctorate granted by the University of Breslau on 11 March]. Rejecting an official letter of thanks as too dry, and even a friendly letter as insufficient, Brahms hints at the idea of responding with a composition: 'perhaps a very proud and joyful symphonic movement would do the trick, to make people notice that I am decorated with the best and finest of orders' ('vielleicht gelingt mir ein recht stolzer und fröhlicher Symphonie-Satz, denn man anmerkte daß ich mit dem besten und schönsten Orden geschmückt bin!').
Brahms did indeed compose a work to express his pleasure at his honorary degree -- the boisterous Academic Festival Overture, op.80, which includes a series of quotations from student beer-hall songs. It was first performed at Breslau on 4 January 1881. Adolph Kauffman was founder and chairman of the Breslau Orchestral Association.
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