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Johannes Brahms

1833 - 1897

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. His reputation and status as a composer is such that he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

Brahms composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, and voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. 

(b. Hamburg, May 7, 1833; d. Vienna,April 3, 1897)

GERMAN composer. Throughout his life VJ he clung tenaciously to the idea that he should carry on the great tradition of musical Classicism, and for 50 years after his death he was thought of as “the Classical composer born too late.” With time, he has come to be seen not only as the outstanding craftsman of his era and one of the greatest masters of musical form and argument ever, but as one of the most potent and original voices of Romanticism. His father was a “beer fiddler”—a professional musician of modest attainments who worked at odd jobs—and he hoped that his son would become an orchestral musician; to that end, Brahms was given music lessons, and he quickly developed into a capable pianist. He was eventually sent to Eduard Marxsen, a prominent pedagogue who taught him without fee and helped forge his powerful musical intellect.

As a teenager, he earned money playing in Hamburg waterfront dives, a degrading experience that would permanently shadow his relations with women, and from which he sought refuge in Romantic fantasizing, imagining himself as Young Kreisler, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fictitious musician-hero.

Brahms encountered his share of real musician-heroes in 1853 First came the violinist Joseph Joachim, two years his senior.

Then, through Joachim, he met Franz Liszt and the Schumanns. Robert Schumann recognized his genius at once and took him under his wing; later that year he published an article in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik tided “Neue Bahnen”

(“New Paths”), in which he called Brahms “one of the elect.” Four months later, Schumann was committed to an insane asylum, but his anointment of Brahms would remain upon the young man’s head for better and for worse. During the years of Schumann’s institutionalization, Brahms became emotionally attached to Clara, and although he retreated from any kind of romantic involvement with her after her husband’s death in 1856, he remained devoted to her for the rest of her life. Brahms’s career took him to Detmold in 1857, where he spent two years as a court musician and teacher, composed a pair of serenades for the court orchestra, and also worked on transforming what he had originally intended to be a symphony into his turbulent, emotionally charged Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor (1859). 

"We cling nervously to the melody, but we don't handle it freely, we don't really make anything new out of it, we merely overload it."

Johannes Brahms  


Key Works

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

0:56 - Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Meno allegro
18:41 - Andante sostenuto
29:45 - Un poco allegretto e grazioso
35:26 - Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – Più allegro


Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 

0:28 I. Allegro non troppo
16:15 II. Adagio non troppo
25:48 III. Allegretto grazioso
31:26 IV: Allegro con spirito

Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90

0:00 I.Allegro con brio (F major), in sonata form.
13:55 II.Andante (C major), in a modified sonata form.
23:42 III.Poco allegretto (C minor), in ternary form (A B A').
30:12 IV.Allegro (F minor/F major), in a modified sonata form.

 Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98

0:00 I.Allegro non troppo (E minor)
12:44 II.Andante moderato (E major)
25:40 III.Allegro giocoso (C major)
31:58 IV.Allegro energico e passionato (E minor)

 Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

00:00 I. Maestoso
24:06 II. Adagio
38:45 III. Rondo

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major

0:32 - Allegro non troppo
19:16 - Allegro appassionato
28:32 - Andante
40:11 - Allegretto grazioso

Violin Concerto in D major Op.77

1. Allegro non troppo (Cadenza by Joachim)
2. Adagio 24:41 
3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace 34:52

Hungarian Dances

Ungarische Tänze, WoO 1:
1 g-moll.Allegro molto (orch. Johannes Brahms) 03:22
2 d-moll.Allegro non assai (orch. Frigye Hidas) 03:35 jump to 03:22
3 F-dur.Allegretto (orch. Johannes Brahms) 02:04 jump to 07:00
4 f-moll.Poco sostenuto (orch. Frigye Hidas, Iván Fischer) 05:24 jump to 09:03
5 fis-moll.Allegro (orch. Martin Schmeling) 02:27 jump to 14:30
6 Des-dur.Vivace (orch. Martin Schmeling) 02:51 Jump to 17:00
7 F-dur.Allegretto (orch. Martin Schmeling) 01:41 Jump to 19:50
8 a-moll.Presto (orch. Robert Schollum) 03:03 Jump to 21:34
9 e-moll.Allegro non troppo (orch. Robert Schollum) 01:57 Jump to 24:37
10 E-dur.Presto (orch.Johannes Brahms) 01:44 Jump to 26:34 11 F-dur.Poco andante (orch. Albert Parlow, Iván Fischer) 04:02 jump to 28:18
12 d-moll.Presto (orch. Frigye Hidas, Iván Fischer) 02:31 Jump to 32:20
13 D-dur.Andantino grazioso (orch. Albert Parlow, Iván Fischer) 01:25 Jump to 34:55
14 d-moll.Un poco andante (orch. Albert Parlow, Iván Fischer) 02:13 Jump to 36:20
15 B-dur.Allegretto grazioso (orch. Frigye Hidas) 02:38 jump to 38:33
16 f-moll.Con moto (orch. Albert Parlow) 02:50 Jump to 41:15
17 fis-moll.Andantino (orch. FRIGYE Hidas, Iván Fischer) 03:14 Jump to 44:10
18 D-dur.Molto vivace (orch. Frigye Hidas) 01:26 Jump to 47:25
19 h-moll.Allegretto (orch. Antonin Dvořák, Iván Fischer) 01:38 Jump to 48:55
20 e-moll.Poco allegretto (orch. Antonin Dvořák,Iván Fischer) 02:52 Jump to 50:33
21 e-moll.Vivace (orch. Antonin Dvořák, Iván Fischer) 01:27 Jump to 53:25

Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115

00:00 - I. Allegro
12:21 - II. Adagio
23:26 - III. Andantino - Presto non assai, ma con sentimento
28:03 - IV. Con moto

Ballades op.10

n°1 Andante 0:00
n°2 Andante 4:38
n°3 Intermezzo. Allegro 11:24
n°4 Andante con moto 15:23

7 Fantasien for piano, Op. 116

00:00 - 1. Capriccio in D minor
02:45 - 2. Intermezzo in A minor
07:03 - 3. Capriccio in G minor
10:59 - 4. Intermezzo in E major
15:52 - 5. Intermezzo in E minor
19:16 - 6. Intermezzo in E major
23:04 - 7. Capriccio in D minor

Ein Deutsches Requiem,  Op. 45

0:00 (00:37) I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen 
10:07 II. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras 
24:14 III. Herr, lehre doch mich 
33:40 IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen 
39:26 V . Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit 
46:45 VI. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt 
58:02 VII. Selig sind die Toten

Five Songs, Op 104

Brahms in 1853

Brahms settled in Vienna— where music still meant more than anywhere else—in 1862. For Vienna, as for Brahms, one foot was planted in the past; the other was pointed toward a future fraught with uncertainty, desolation, and despair. He became conductor of the city’s Singakademie in 1863, and by the end of the decade he had firmly established himself as one of Vienna’s leading musical lights. In 1865, prompted by his mother’s death, Brahms began the fashioning of Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem),   the largest and

in many ways the pivotal work of his career, which with its earnest argument, rigorous craftsmanship, and mix of high purpose and intimate feeling opened the door to his mature style. While serving as artistic director of Vienna’s most prestigious musical institution, the Gesellschaft der Musik-freunde (1872-75), he completed his first two string quartets and composed the Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873). In 1876 he finished his Symphony No. 1, in C minor, Op. 68, a work whose genesis went back at least as far as 1862. Symphony No. 2, in D, Op. 73, followed in 1877. On its heels came the Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77, written for Joachim, in 1878, its dancelike Gypsy-flavored finale a tribute to the soloist’s Hungarian roots. 

Johannes Brahms, photographed c. 1872 

Over the next decade, working mosdy during long summer vacations in the mountains or at lakeside retreats, Brahms composed a string of magisterial works. The rich harvest included his Piano Concerto No. 2, in B-flat, Op. 83 (1881), Symphony No. 3, in F, Op. 90 (1883), Symphony No. 4, in E minor, Op. 98 (1884-85), a substantial number of songs, and some of his finest chamber pieces—the three violin sonatas, the two cello sonatas, and the Trios in C major and C minor.

In 1890, shortly after completing the Quintet in G, Op. Ill, for strings, he decided to give up composition. But his muse refused to be silent, and a new round of creative fervor was sparked in the spring of 1891 by the playing of Richard Muhlfeld, the first clarinetist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra. During the next four years, with Muhlfeld in mind, Brahms would compose the Trio in A minor, Op. 114, for clarinet, cello, and piano; the Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, for clarinet and strings; and the two Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120.

He honored Miihlfield’s talents in many ways in these works, filling pages with ardent feeling and surpassing gendeness, and, in the finale to the F minor Sonata, Op. 120, No. 1, creating a virtuosic romp. Brahms also returned to writing for his own instrument after many years of neglect, penning the Fantasien, Op. 116, the Three Intermezzos, Op. 117, and the ten Klavierstucke (Piano Pieces) of Opp. 118 and 119, all between 1891 and 1893. These urgent, melancholy last works for the clarinet and the piano would prove to be among his most personal statements—intriguing in their intensity and range of expression, adventurous in their treatment of form, rhythm, and harmony.

Brahms was not a pathbreaking figure like Beethoven, but a consolidator chiefly concerned with achieving structural integrity in his music—through a thorough working out of its material and formal schemes —as well as a judicious balance of content and expression. Whereas transcendence, exuberance, and exaltation had been key elements of Beethoven’s expressive brief, there is little of that in Brahms. Instead, there is formidable passion accompanied by a prevailing sense of melancholy and a notable willingness to express ambivalent feelings with unflinching honesty. Nowhere is this quality more beautifully displayed than in the bittersweet
Poco allegretto movement of Symphony No. 3. Occasionally, Brahms’s music seems overly earnest in its expression and labored in its working out of material, but at its best it combines rigorous argument with expression that is rich, nuanced, and emotionally probing.

Johann Strauss II and Brahms,
photographed in Vienna

Brahms had a fondness for variation form—it played out again and again in his piano and chamber works—and for forms and procedures associated with “old” music, that is, the Baroque. Chief among these were fugue (in Ein deutsches Requiem and the monumental Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, for piano), passacaglia (in the finales of the Variations on a Theme by Haydn and the Fourth Symphony), and canon (employed frequently in his works, e.g., the opening subject of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, where it is cleverly concealed by the orchestration). Both formally and in terms of the richness of their content and discourse, Brahms’s symphonies and concertos are the finest contributions to their genres penned in the second half of the 19 th century; for the same reasons, his chamber pieces (especially the instrumental sonatas) and songs (a total of about 200) are essential to the repertoire. Musicians have always loved this music because, as was surely Brahms’s intention, everything in it is substantive.

In his understanding of harmony Brahms was remarkably sophisticated, as he was in his predilection for rich, freely organized polyphonic textures in which the constituent lines are treated not as counterpoint in the traditional sense, but as parts of a living tissue of independent melodic elements. Mahler would continue this line of thinking, as would Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. Perhaps most advanced of all was Brahms’s acceptance of rhythm as an element of musical language on the same plane as melody and harmony, a view whose implications were felt throughout the music of the 20th century. His use of devices such as hemiola, accented offbeats, and cross rhythms to build and sustain powerful climaxes remains virtually unrivaled.


Aside from Bruckner, who was nine years older, and Dvorak, who was eight years younger, it is hard to think of any contemporaries in the German-speaking world—European music’s inner sanctum— who stood anywhere close to Brahms. In the final two decades of his life he fully vindicated Schumann’s prediction of greatness and took his place as the greatest instrumental composer of his day, richly deserving of the salutation he received in 1879 when the University of Breslau conferred on him an honorary doctorate in philosophy; “Artis musicae severioris in Germania nunc princeps” (“To the leading master of serious music in Germany”). The 20th century would see even more in him than his contemporaries did. Schoenberg would hail him as the agent of “great innovations in musical language,” and he would also be credited with having brought about, in a time of heady Romantic expressionism, the renovation of music as an abstract art and the resuscitation of its traditional forms. Today the repertoire is filled with his works, and his approach—that of the progressive conservative—has become a model for composers eager to connect with audiences.

Brahms's grave in the Zentralfriedhof 
(Central Cemetery), Vienna

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