Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky , Johannes Brahms and Robert Browning
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

On this date in 1840, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Russia. Although he studied law and was appointed to the Ministry of Justice in 1859, Tchaikovsky jettisoned that career, studying music for three years at the Conservatory. He followed that by lessons from Rubenstein. This prolific and most lyrical of the classical composers wrote "Romeo and Juliet" (1869), "Swan Lake" (1876), "The Sleeping Beauty" (1890), "The Nutcracker" (1892), "Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor" (1875) and "Pathetique Symphony." His letters show an interest in religious questions, which, according to freethought encyclopedist Joseph McCabe, gravitated toward agnosticism by the end of his life. Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, which made him a "transgressor" in the 19th century, may have played a role in his religious migration. D. 1893.

"I have found some astonishing answers to my questioning as to God and religion in his book."

—Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, letter to Modeste about reading freethinker Flaubert's letters (Life and Letters of P.I. Tchaikovsky, 1906)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

On this date in 1833, Johannes Brahms was born in Germany. As a teenager playing for drunken sailors in a Hamburg bar, Brahms would prop up books of poetry to read as a diversion. His favorite poet was the anti-clerical G.F. Daumer, described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as "an enemy of Christianity" (although Daumer later converted). He was well-read in philosophy and science and was an avid hiker who took inspiration from nature. When a conductor requested a greater religious consciousness in some liturgical music, Brahms wrote him he would prefer to "dispense with places like John 3:16." (Jan Swafford, Johannes Brahms: A Biography).

A liberal, Brahms ardently opposed anti-Semitism, was approachable even at the height of his fame, and was always generous with his time and charity. Biographer Swafford writes of the young composer: "Though he was to be a freethinker in religion, Johannes pored over the Bible beyond the requirements for his Protestant confirmation." From then on, "Music was Brahms' religion." According to Swafford, Brahms was "a humanist and an agnostic." He never married although it was obvious he loved children. Scholars have observed that he thought himself as unfit emotionally for marriage. He died of liver cancer at age 63 in 1897.

Public domain photo: Brahms at age 20.

“Yet we can't believe in immortality on the other side. The only true immortality lies in one's children.”

—Brahms' letter to composer Richard Heuberger, "Johannes Brahms: A Biography" by Jan Swafford (1997)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Browning

Robert Browning

On this date in 1812, Robert Browning was born in London. The precocious child began writing poetry at age 12, attended London University College for a year at age 16 and eventually established his reputation as a major poet by 1845. One of his most famous writings is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." Although Browning's mother was a devout evangelical, Robert announced at 13, after reading "Queen Mab" by Shelley, that he was (at least briefly) an atheist. At a more mature age, Browning began reevaluating religion once more during his friendship with W.J. Fox, the former Unitarian minister at London's famous South Place Chapel.

"Who knows most, doubts most," Browning wrote (cited in 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught). Browning's famous correspondence and whirlwind romance with poet Elizabeth Barrett resulted in their marriage in 1846. They settled in Italy for the benefit of Elizabeth, an invalid. They had a son, Robert ("Pen") Jr., in 1849. At the death of his wife in 1861, Browning was said to have discarded any remaining Christian beliefs, although the degree of Browning's skepticism is debated by academics. In The Ring and the Book, iv., Browning wrote: "Mothers, wives, and maids / There be the tools wherewith priests manage men." D. 1889.

I.
“It is a lie — their Priests, their Pope,
Their Saints, their ... all they fear or hope
Are lies, and lies — there! through my door
And ceiling, there! and walls and floor,
There, lies, they lie, shall still be hurled
Till spite of them I reach the world!" 

—Robert Browning, "The Confessional" (1845)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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