Apart from being one of the world's greatest ever composers, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was an absolutely fascinating character. Self-conscious about his high-pitched voice, he affected a deeper, gruffer tone. Somewhat ashamed of his smooth skin and fair colouring, he grew a large beard to appear more masculine.
Just why Brahms was so embarrassed by these natural physical traits might be explained by his early teenage years in Hamburg. Born into poverty, as soon as he was able to earn money to support his family, Brahms' father sent him out to work. Unfortunately for Brahms, this work came in the shape of playing background piano in some of the seediest waterfront brothels of Hamburg. Between the ages of 12 and 14, the impressionable young Brahms witnessed and was even forced to participate in all manner of sexual acts. Said Brahms himself, the experiences "left a deep shadow on my mind".
This "shadow" affected Brahms' attitude towards sex and women for the rest of his life. He preferred the company of men and became something of a misogynist. He even owned a trick rocking chair - crammed into the living room of his already overcrowded Viennese apartment - reserved solely for unsuspecting female guests. Deceptively comfy in appearance, the chair provided a nasty shock for its sitters. If the unlucky ladies sat on the front edge of the chair, they would be tipped forward, landing on their knees. If they sat down full upon the seat they would fly backwards, screeching in terror as they were toppled onto the floor. According to his friends, Brahms would watch proudly, and "burst with demonic laughter" as he did so.
Chancellor Adolf Hitler, President Paul von Hindenburg, and President of the Reichstag Hermann Göring at a memorial celebration at the Tannenberg Monument in 1933. Credit: Andreas Larsson
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