Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms: Born in Hamburg, Germany on May 7, 1833, and passing away in Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now part of Austria) on April 3, 1897, Johannes Brahms was a German pianist and composer of the Romantic period.

He created more than 200 songs in addition to symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, and choral compositions. During the latter part of the 19th century, Brahms was the supreme master of the symphonic and sonata styles.

He may be considered as the representative of the Classical legacy of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when the Romantics were contesting or overturning the principles of this inheritance.

The young musician and person in charge of music

Johannes Brahms, whose father was a poor musician who played the horn and double bass, showed early potential as a pianist. His father was Jakob Brahms.

He initially learned music from his father, and then, when he was seven years old, his father enrolled him in piano classes with F.W. Cossel.

Cossel handed him to Eduard Marxsen three years later, who became his own instructor. Brahms was able to contribute financially to his family between the ages of 14 and 16 by performing in seedy taverns in the port district of Hamburg while also writing music and sometimes presenting recitals in his spare time.

In 1850, he became acquainted with Eduard Reményi, a Jewish Hungarian violinist. He performed in concerts with Eduard, and it was through Eduard that he gained some knowledge of Roma music, an influence that stayed with him throughout his life.

When Brahms first met the violin prodigy Joseph Joachim in 1853, Joachim immediately recognized the brilliance that Brahms had. This was the first turning moment in Brahms’ life.

Joachim, in turn, referred Brahms to the composer Robert Schumann, which ultimately led to the two composers developing an instant relationship with one another.

Schumann praised Brahms’ works in an article that was published in the monthly “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” that he had written about Brahms.

The piece caused quite a stir when it was published. Brahms was an influential figure in the music world from this point on, even though he constantly faced challenges from various sources.

The character of Schumann’s panegyric itself was the most important of these factors. The “neo-German” school, which Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner dominated, and the more conservative elements, whose chief voice was Schumann, were already at odds with one another before the battle began.

The former’s lauding of the latter caused the latter to feel slighted, and Brahms himself, although well-greeted by Liszt, did not try to hide the fact that he did not have much compassion for the self-conscious modernists.

Because of this, he became embroiled in a debate, and the majority of the upheavals in his usually unremarkable personal life can be traced back to the effects of this circumstance.

Brahms gradually became close with the Schumann household. In 1854, when Schumann was diagnosed with mental illness, Brahms supported Clara Schumann in taking care of their family while Schumann was hospitalized.

It indicates that he had romantic feelings for her; nevertheless, even though they remained close friends until Schumann died in 1856, their relationship did not go further.

Brahms’s romance with Agathe von Siebold in 1858 was the closest he ever got to being married. However, he abruptly broke up the relationship and was never really interested in the thought of getting married again after that.

The reasons behind this are not entirely obvious; nevertheless, it is likely that his enormous reserve and his incapacity to express feelings in any other manner save via music were to blame.

Furthermore, it is expected that he was well aware that his innate irritability and hatred of compassion would have made him an unsuitable spouse.

He expressed his feelings in a letter, saying, “I couldn’t bear to have in the house a woman who has the right to be kind to me, to comfort me when things go wrong.” All of this, in addition to his intense love of children and animals, helps to understand some features of his music, including its focused inner reserve that conceals and, at times, blocks enormous currents of emotion.

Between 1857 and 1860, Brahms split his time between the court of Detmold and Gottingen, where he taught the piano and led a choral society. Meanwhile, in 1859, he was appointed director of a women’s chorus in Hamburg.

These roles provided him with vital practical experience yet allowed him sufficient time to focus on his work. Brahms’s output rose at this stage.

By 1861, he had returned to Hamburg, and the year after that, he made his first trip to Vienna, which was met with some measure of success.

After being unsuccessful in his attempt to get the position of conductor for the Hamburg Philharmonic performances, he moved to Vienna in 1863. He took over the administration of the Singakademie, a renowned choral group.

Only the ups and downs of his musical success, altercations caused by his quick temper, and the often vicious rivalry between his supporters and those of Wagner and Anton Bruckner, as well as one or two love affairs that did not lead to a happy ending, were the only things that caused his life there to deviate from its regular and peaceful pattern.

His life there was, on the whole, soft and stable. Despite a few failures and the persistent assaults of the Wagnerites, his music established itself, and his fame grew gradually.

He went on to command the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for three seasons. Although the “Brahmins” maintained their battle against Wagner, Brahms himself always talked of his competitor with respect, although the “Brahmins” continued their war against Wagner.

His choice of music was not as conservative as could have been predicted. Brahms is often depicted in a manner that is insensitive toward the musicians who lived during his time. It is common knowledge that he was enthusiastic about Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony, but it is less common information that he was nice to Antonin Dvorak.

His support of composers like the young Gustav Mahler is not frequently recognized, nor is his excitement for Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony.

In the time that Brahms spent in Vienna between his two positions there, his career blossomed, and he produced some of his most important pieces.

The composition of his most well-known choral music, Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), which had preoccupied him ever since the death of Robert Schumann, was finally finished in the year 1868. The first performance of this piece, which was based on biblical verses chosen by the composer and took place in Bremen on Good Friday in the year 1868, had a profound effect on the audience.

After that, it was played throughout Germany. Brahms rose into the leading position among German composers with the completion of the Requiem, now regarded as one of the essential pieces of choral music composed during the 19th century.

Brahms was also creating compositions of a lighter strain, which were quite popular. In 1869, he published two volumes of Hungarian Dances for piano duets. These were outstanding arrangements of Roma songs he had gathered over the years.

Their popularity was unprecedented, and their songs were performed in every region globally. In 1868 and 1869, he wrote the Liebeslieder (Love Songs) waltzes for vocal quartets and four-hand piano accompaniment.

This work is full of humor and incorporates elegant Viennese dance songs. During this same period, he also penned some of his best songs.

Maturity and fame of Johannes Brahms

By the 1870s, Brahms had begun producing substantial chamber pieces and was progressing down the road toward pure orchestral composition with considerable determination.He debuted the orchestral arrangement of his brilliant Variations on a Theme by Haydn in 1873.

Haydn was the composer of the original theme. After this attempt, which even Brahms, who was known for his self-criticism, had to admit was a total success, he felt ready to begin on the completion of his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor.

This great work was finished in 1876, the same year that it was performed for the first time. After the composer had shown to himself that he had a complete knowledge of the symphonic style, he created his Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1877) within the next year.

This piece is peaceful and pastoral, and it steers clear of the heroic melancholy that is found in Symphony No. 1. He waited a total of six years before composing his Symphony No. 3 in F Major in the year 1883.

The first three movements of this piece give the impression of being a rather tranquil and peaceful composition.

However, the fourth and final movement shows a massive fight between the many elemental elements. Again, after just one year had passed, Brahms started work on his last symphony, which was the No. 4 in E Minor (1884–85).

This piece is said to have been motivated by Brahms’ reading at the time of Sophocles’ ancient Greek plays, which the composer was doing at the time.

It should come as no surprise that the conclusion is the most significant movement of the symphony. Brahms used a basic subject that he discovered in J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 150 and developed it in a sequence of thirty exceedingly complicated variations.

However, the technical proficiency that is demonstrated here is as nothing compared to the clarity of thinking and the depth of passion that is portrayed in this piece.

Brahms’s fame began to grow beyond the borders of Germany and Austria over time. Switzerland and the Netherlands shown genuine respect for his art, and Brahms’s concert tours to these nations as well as Hungary and Poland garnered high praise for the composer’s work.

In the year 1879, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Breslau, which is today known as the University of Wroclaw in Poland. As a way of expressing his gratitude to the institution, the composer created the Academic Festival Overture (1881), which was based on a variety of student melodies from Germany.

During this same period, he also composed the Violin Concerto in D Major (1878) and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major (1881). Both of these pieces were symphonic in nature.

Contemporaries of Brahms were now acutely aware of the remarkable importance of his works, and people talked of the “three great Bs” (meaning Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms), to whom they ascribed the same position of distinction.

Brahms’s works were considered to be on par with those of Bach and Beethoven. In spite of this, there existed a sizeable group of musicians who refused to acknowledge Brahms’ genius.

Brahms’s contributions were looked down upon by ardent lovers of the avant-garde composers of the day, most notably Liszt and Wagner, who believed that Brahms’s work was too out of date and lacked expression.

Brahms spent the remainder of his life in Vienna, where he had first settled. In 1875, he handed in his resignation as director of the Society of Friends of Music, and from that point on, he focused virtually entirely of his life on composing music.

When he embarked on concert tours, he always led the performances himself or played his own compositions on the piano. He kept a handful of close personal connections throughout his life but remained a bachelor his whole adult life.

He would go on trips throughout the summers to places like Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. During these years, Brahms wrote the Violin Sonata in D Minor (1886–1888), the forceful Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor (1886), and the boldly planned Double Concerto in A Minor (1887) for violin and cello.

In addition to this, he finished the ebullient first String Quintet in F Major (1882) and the spirited second String Quintet in G Major (1890).

Final years

Brahms was inspired to compose chamber music for the clarinet in 1891 by Richard Mühlfeld, a renowned clarinetist he had seen play a few months before.

Brahms composed the magnificent Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (1891), the Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano (1891), and two Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano (1894) with Mühlfeld in mind. These compositions are flawlessly structured and expertly tailored to the capabilities of the wind instrument.

Four Serious Songs, composed by Johannes Brahms in 1896 for bass voice and piano and based on themes from the Hebrew and the New Testament, are a melancholy work that explores the futility of all things material and celebrates death as the end of suffering and fatigue.

This piece was inspired by Brahms’ memories of Clara Schumann, whose physical health had drastically deteriorated.

After Clara passed away on May 20, 1896, Brahms was forced to seek medical attention when it was revealed that his liver had become critically ill.

His last performance was at a concert in March 1897, and he passed away from cancer in Vienna the following month.

Aims and achievements of Johannes Brahms

In the latter part of the 19th century, Brahms’ music complemented and countered Romantic individuality’s fast rise.

He was a conservative in that he enormously admired the delicacy and dynamism of movement shown by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, with additional influences from Franz Schubert.

Romantic artists’ focus on the emotional moment opened up new harmonic possibilities, but it also had two unavoidable effects. First, it led to a propensity for improvisation, which often left out structure.

Second, it slowed down the compositional processes, enabling Wagner to find a way to create music that proceeded as slowly as his often disputed stage action.

The ability of crisp, dazzling, and dramatic symphonic development that had so brilliantly differentiated the masters at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries—and culminated in Beethoven’s chamber music and symphonies—was therefore becoming less and less critical to composers.

Brahms was deeply aware of this loss, rejected it, and resolved to make up for it to maintain a force he felt firmly was still very much alive. However, Brahms wanted to give the language of his period some positive energy rather than imitate ancient forms.

Thus, his musical vocabulary has nothing in common with that of Beethoven or even Schubert; harmonically, Schumann and even Wagner had a significant effect. What sets Brahms apart from his contemporaries is his fluid and expert management of rhythm and movement.

Although it is sometimes assumed that Brahms’ sense of direction was slower than that of his most esteemed precursor, Beethoven, Brahms was always able to adjust the speed of his musical thinking spectacularly, frequently tightening and speeding it without changing tempo.

The ability to control tonality, harmony, and rhythm with finesse sets Beethoven apart from other 19th-century composers. Brahms’s compositions display many emotions throughout his career, from the subtly comical to the sad. Still, his more significant pieces exhibit an ever-increasing command of movement and an ever-greater economy and focus.

In the end, Brahms’ signal strength partly derives from a seemingly incongruous source. He was the most knowledgeable classical music composer from long ago. He adapted the teachings he gained from the 16th-century polyphonic school to the styles and instrumental and vocal resources of his day.

Thus, he revived a 19th-century rhythmic language at risk of dying out due to textural and harmonic stagnation by using a novel approach to the texture that very ancient models inspired.

Brahms uses tone color in his orchestral compositions in a very recognizable and unique way, notably in how he uses woodwind and brass instruments and how he writes for the strings.

But what’s crucial is that he uses color, not just adds it for the sake of adding it. These pieces are characterized by a strong interaction between orchestration and architecture, with the orchestration coloring the tones just as much as the themes’ harmonies, tonalities, and shifting nature.

Like in Mozart and Beethoven’s concerti, Brahms’ approach to orchestration is especially well-suited to the more nuanced facets of the relationship between orchestra and soloist.

Beethoven considerably expanded the scale of design and range of expression in the Classical concerto, which had already attained an unsurpassable degree of organization in Mozart’s mature compositions for piano and orchestra.

Felix Mendelssohn had “abolished” the beginning orchestral tutti, or ritornello, and had been followed in this respect by many other lesser artists. Many future composers unavoidably miss the more incredible intricacies of such works.

Brahms determined to restore the profundity and majesty of the concerto notion after realizing how crippling this was.

When it came time for recapitulation, where a completely new and frequently revelatory distribution of themes, keys, instrumentation, and tensions was possible, he realized, like Mozart and Beethoven, that the lengthy orchestral introductory passage, far from being superfluous, was the means of sharpening and deepening the complex relationship of the orchestra to solo.

Brahms’ concerti have endured wear and tear far better than many works deemed to outperform them in their day, even though many of his contemporaries felt he was reactionary.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brahms was a superb miniaturist in many of his excellent and diverse songs and his short, deftly crafted, profoundly personal late piano compositions.

He was a versatile songwriter who could write intricate, well-structured, simple, and strophic songs. His melodic creativity is consistently fresh and straightforward, and the accompaniments are intensely evocative without ever being just picturesque.

The late piano music, which often has little dimensions but broad implications, typically expresses a deep seclusion of mind and heart and is consequently difficult to approach.

Additionally, its apparent overall tone and mood may seem repetitive to the untrained ear. These pieces’ internal economy and complexity are astounding; nonetheless, each piece has a calm and passionate aspect that makes the sporadic outpouring of violent fury the more striking.

Finally, Brahms’ choral compositions demonstrate his breadth of musical style.

His choral compositions blend the logic and consistency of George Frideric Handel with the contrapuntal mastery of Bach, but they manage to reach complete independence.

One of the greatest choral works of its time, A German Requiem, demonstrates the composer’s strengths in this area and his ability to combine solo and tutti seamlessly, much like in concerti.

Brahms’ underlying sorrow is placed within the framework of a vast, impartial, nonreligious humanitarian vision by the vastness, majesty, and strength of this work’s lines and composition. Thus, he differs from the self-centered Romantic; stoicism is his most important attribute.

What is Johannes Brahms famous for?

Throughout his career, Johannes Brahms displayed a variety of moods, from subdued comedy to sadness.

However, his more significant works show that he enhanced at controlling movement and focusing on the essentials.

Some of his most well-known compositions are Wiegenlied, Op: 49, No. 4, the Third Symphony in F Major, and the Hungarian Dances.

How did Johannes Brahms become famous?

When Johannes Brahms became friends with violin prodigy Joseph Joachim in 1853, Joachim immediately recognized Brahms’s brilliance and suggested that Robert Schumann hire him.

In the journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Schumann commended Brahms’ works.

The article started a sensation. Brahms became a significant figure in the music industry at this time.

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