German composer, pianist, and conductor. He is considered one of the greatest composers of symphonic music and songs. His works include four symphonies, lieder (songs), concertos for piano and for violin, chamber music, sonatas, and the choral Ein Deutsches Requiem/A German Requiem (1868). He performed and conducted his own works.
In 1853 the violinist Joseph Joachim introduced him to the composers Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann, who encouraged his work. From 1863 Brahms made his home in Vienna, Austria. Although his music belongs to a reflective type of Romanticism, similar to William Wordsworth in poetry, Brahms saw himself as continuing the classical tradition from where Beethoven had left it. To musicians of his day, he was a strict formalist, opposite to the arch-Romantic Wagner. His influence on Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg was profound.
Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany. His father was a double bass player who taught him music as a child. Although he intended to be an orchestral player, he made so much progress on the piano that his parents decided to make him a prodigy performer when he was about 11. His teachers wisely opposed this. Soon afterwards he began to compose, but had to play in sailors' taverns and dancing-saloons at night to earn money for the family. He gave two concerts during 1848–49, but did not free himself from the drudgery of playing and teaching until he went on a concert tour with Eduard Reményi in 1853. It was then that he met Joachim, Liszt, and other important musicians, particularly Robert and Clara Schumann, who took much interest in him. He was engaged now and again at the court of Lippe-Detmold in 1857–60, travelled as a pianist, and worked in Hamburg, where he conducted a ladies' choir. In Hanover in 1859 he premiered his first piano concerto, which, although one of the great masterpieces of the genre, was poorly received by both audience and critics, probably as a result of inadequate rehearsal time.
He visited Vienna in 1862 and settled there the following year. From 1864 he devoted his time entirely to composition, except for some concert tours on which he played mainly his own works. In Bremen in 1868 he conducted the premiere of his most profound vocal work, Ein Deutsches Requiem/A German Requiem; one month later he added the movement Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit/Though Ye Now be Sorrowful in memory of his mother. His success as a composer was firmly established during the 1860s, and he became known abroad, but he did not complete his first symphony until 1876. It had taken him 15 years and was written in Beethoven's shadow, but after its premiere Brahms was established as the leading composer of instrumental music of his time. The symphony was soon followed by a more relaxed work in D major. He wrote much during summer holidays in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, but hardly visited other countries except Italy. In 1877 he refused an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University, England, because he did not wish to travel to receive it in person, but he accepted a doctorate from the University of Breslau, Prussia, in 1879. In 1881 he was the soloist in the premiere of his second piano concerto. In 1896 he began to suffer seriously from cancer of the liver, the disease from which he died the following year. Brahms was the great compositional conservative of the 19th century. Musicians tended to be classified either as supporters of Brahms or of Wagner, the great innovator of the same period. However, what Brahms lacked in formal invention he more than compensated for in profundity and the perfection of contemporary models.
WorksChorus and orchestralEin Deutsches Requiem/A German Requiem (texts from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible), with baritone and soprano soloists (1857–68), Rhapsody for contralto, male chorus, and orchestra (1869), Gesang der Parzen (1882).
Symphonies no. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1855–76), no. 2 in D, Op. 73 (1877), no. 3 in F, Op. 90 (1883), no. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 (1884–85).
Concertos two for piano, no. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 (1854–58), no. 2 in B♭, Op. 83 (1878–81); violin in D, Op. 77 (1878); violin and cello in A minor, Op. 102 (1887).
Chamber two string sextets, Op. 18 in B♭ (1860), Op. 36 in G (1865); three string quartets; two string quintets, Op. 88 in F (1882), Op. 111 in G (1890); three piano quartets, Op. 25 in G minor (1861), Op. 26 in A (1861), Op. 60 (1855–75); piano quintet Op. 34 in F minor (1864); clarinet quintet Op. 115 in B minor (1891); three piano trios, Op. 8 in B (1854, revised 1890), Op. 87 in C (1880–82), Op. 101 in C minor (1886); horn trio Op. 40 in E♭ (1865); two cello sonatas, Op. 38 in E minor (1862–65), Op. 99 in F (1886); three violin sonatas (1879–88); trio for clarinet, cello, piano (1891); two sonatas for clarinet or viola, Op. 120 in F minor and E♭ (1894).
Solo piano includes three sonatas (1852–53); variations on themes by Schumann, Handel (Op. 24, 1861), Paganini (Op. 35, 1863), and Haydn (version for two pianos of work for orchestra, 1873); rhapsodies, intermezzos, and other pieces.
Organ includes 11 chorale preludes, Op. 122 (1896).
Vocal numerous part songs; the song cycles Die Schöne Magelone Op. 33 and Vier ernste Gesänge for low voice and piano Op. 121; more than 200 Lieder (1852–86).
Brahms and the Crisis of Our Time
Brahms, Johannes Second Symphony
Brahms, Johannes Three Intermezzos
Brahms, Johannes Tragic Overture
Brahms, Johannes Waltz
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