Whether Brahms and Clara Schumann were actually lovers or not, there’s no doubt that she had a powerful impact upon his music.
Though their relationship is often considered “mysterious”, many details have been recounted in biographies. Brahms’s relationship with his mentor’s wife symbolised the tension between emotion and control.
Brahms’s Third Symphony speaks of a more complex relationship between masculine and feminine than the typical narrative pattern would indicate. Many scholars have argued that the rising motif in the first movement spells out the theme of the symphony, “free but happy”.
The work is also perceived as a gendered narrative, revealing some of Brahms’s own anxieties about feminism. The women he engaged with were very talented and knowledgeable musicians, who gave him feedback on his compositions. They responded to his music on their own terms and had a very strong impact on his career.