Hopeless Romantic hitting all the right notes

Suffering with the Valentine’s Day blues? This February the Philharmonia Orchestra are sticking up for the hopeless romantics by celebrating one of classical music’s most luckless Lotharios, Johannes Brahms.

On 23 February Andris Nelsons conducts Brahms’s revered German Requiem at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, in a programme of personal works that also features his Piano Quartet No. 3, Werther, performed by four acclaimed soloists – Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Martin Helmchen and Hanna Weinmeister.

Nicknamed after Goethe’s lovelorn character Werther, Brahms clearly identified with the tragic hero; a sensitive and artistic young man, led to despair by his unrequited love. A work straight from the heart, the quartet is often claimed to depict the composer’s emotional turmoil at the spurning of his romantic advances towards Clara Schumann. The wife of close friend and fellow composer Robert Schumann, Clara would never let their relationship progress beyond friendship (even after her husband’s untimely death at the age of just 46) and Brahms, who in his youth had gained numerous admirers for his handsome looks, never married.

Brahms’s impressive body of work - which has been celebrated in a number of concerts by the Philharmonia this season - is proof of what can be achieved when channelling the passions of unreciprocated love, turning frustration into musical magic.

Benjamin Britten once argued that music possesses ‘the beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love’ and Brahms’s plight is not unusual in the world of classical music.

Classical music’s top 5 hopeless romantics:

  • Although supposedly engaged in a brief romance with an Italian soprano in his youth, George Frideric Handel never married. A very private man, it appears that Handel dedicated his passion and energies to his music, although it has been suggested that he was in fact gay and that his operatic works contain a latent homosexual subtext.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven was madly in love with his student Giulietta Guicciardi, dedicating his Moonlight Sonata to her. He proposed but the match was not approved by Giuletta’s family who forbade her to marry a man without rank, fortune and a hot-tempered character.
  • In 1836 Frédéric Chopin became engaged to Polish artist Maria Wodzińska, however his failing health thwarted the union, with Maria’s father calling a halt to the proceedings. A number of love-affairs followed but Chopin would die unmarried in 1849.
  • Soprano Désirée Artôt was described by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as the only woman he ever loved, supposedly coding her name into a number of his most famous works. Although marriage was considered, the pair ultimately separated with Tchaikovsky spending the rest of his life tackling and attempting to repress his homosexual desires.
  • Maurice Ravel was once quoted as saying ‘the only love affair I have ever had was with music’. However, close friends suggest he once proposed to violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange who turned him down flat.