Today In Fact, 7 May

Racionzers, Brahms, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. I live in a home with musicians. On any day of the week I am surrounded by the wheezy practicing of saxophones, the endless regimented tinkling of two pianos, the nasal chirruping of oboe, the blaring crescendo of trumpet and the sawing whine of fiddle. Conversation in our home is as much about the food we prepare as about musical notation and the antics of some conductor. The floors are littered with musical instruments, music stands and the odd baffled shoe. The tables are strewn with music scores and metronomes. All the paraphernalia of music and its production compose our ramshackle house. Unlike many musicians however, our emotional lives are boringly stable and mundane. We like it that way.

Two musicians share a birthday today whose emotional lives can in no way be considered boring or mundane.

Johannes Brahms was born today in Hamburg in 1833. An extremely handsome chap, Brahms grew-up in dire circumstances and as a child prodigy was forced to perform music in bars and clubs on the Reeperbahn, a notorious red light district. At the age of 17, Brahms had composed a whole bundle of music but few of the drunks and debauchers on the Reeperbahn showed much interest. When Robert and Clara Schumann came to Hamburg on tour, Brahms sent his music to the great composer but had his hopes dashed when his scores were returned unopened.

Three years later in 1833, Brahms went and visited the Schumann’s at their home in Dusseldorf. Robert Schumann was in his dressing gown when he answered the door and in a sort of disinterested way asked that Brahms play some of his pieces. Schumann was completely transported by the wonderful work and brought his wife Clara in to listen. Clara was a gifted pianist and the mother of seven children.

Within months of this meeting, Schumann was committed to the local loony bin and Clara was banned from seeing him. Brahms fell in love with Clara and, it seems Clara fell for Brahms. It was an impossible situation. An insane husband and father of seven with Clara and Brahms mooning about each other but without, it seems ever getting it off together. It is not that either Clara Schumann or Brahms was prudish. She had seven kids after all and Brahms made regular use of local sex workers. They lived in the same building however and were forever in each other’s apartments.

After Robert Schumann drowned himself in the Rhine, the way seemed clear for this love-struck couple to, well couple. Brahms cut off the relationship and went on tour. They remained friends but never got it off. Clara even had an affair with one of Brahms’ friends but nothing came of Brahms’ great love. Clearly they got no satisfaction.

Another musician who got no satisfaction, from his wife at least, was Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Born today in 1840, Tchaikovsky was gay. Completely and utterly gay. Gay, gay, gay. Russian society and laws at the time utterly forbade gayness. The gay scene in Moscow was so underground that nothing much is known about it except that Tchaikovsky was part of the scene. This is where the brilliant composer came upon with a really silly idea. He found a bride in 1877. Antonina Milyukova, a fag-hag if ever there was one, married her idol. We don’t know if the penny ever dropped for poor Antonina. She never seems to have understood why he never consummated the marriage and kept trying to get in touch with him, blaming herself for the wreck of a marriage. Clearly she got no satisfaction.

A century later, the ghosts of Brahms and Tchaikovsky must have visited Keith Richards this very night in 1965 and inspired him to write one of the greatest songs in Rock-n-Roll.

Richards recorded the rough version of the riff in a hotel room in California. He ran through it once before falling asleep. He said when he listened back to it in the morning, there was about two minutes of acoustic guitar before you could hear him drop the pick and “then me snoring for the next forty minutes”. The next day with Mick Jagger, they composed the immortal “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction”.

As a sort of wry happy birthday to Brahms and Tchaikovsky, I leave you with the last three verses of the song:

I can’t get no satisfaction I can’t get no girl reaction ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ round the world And I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that And I’m tryin’ to make some girl Who tells me baby better come back later next week ‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak I can’t get no, oh no, no, no Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no, I can’t get no I can’t get no satisfaction No satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction.

Douglas Racionzer (see more of Doug’s daily musings at