Did they or didn’t they? In a prurient age, we seem to need to know whether the intense relationship between Brahms and the wife of his friend and fellow-composer, Robert Schumann, was consummated.
This Winchester Festival recital, devised by pianist Lucy Parham and also featuring actors Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman, did not directly address the question but left little doubt that the answer is no, although Brahms wished otherwise.
Whatever the truth, the relationship helped produce some of the most profound music ever written.
In reading various characters’ words, Stevenson was all delicate nuance, dovetailing perfectly with the more upfront Goodman (on Arturo Ui’s Chichester night off). But the programme was devised by Parham and her playing of music reflecting the relationships was the key.
Nothing was more passionate than part of Robert’s second sonata, nothing more poignant than Clara’s own Nocturne, nothing more expressive than Brahms’s Intermezzo, Op 119 No 1, with its troubled, regretful dissonances.
And the tension involved in having two creative artists in one marriage was sharply expressed: ‘Marriage kills the creative spirit,’ said Robert.