Johannes Brahms

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Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (German: [joˈhanəs ˈbʁaːms]; 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is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.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. He worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim (the three were close friends). Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished.

Brahms has been considered, by his contemporaries and by later writers, as both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Classical masters. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. Within his meticulous structures is embedded, however, a highly romantic nature.


Early years[edit]

Photograph from 1891 of the building in Hamburg where Brahms was born. Brahms's family occupied part of the first floor (above the ground floor), behind the two double windows on the left side. The building was destroyed by bombing in 1943.

Brahms's father, Johann Jakob Brahms (1806–72), was from the town of Heide in Holstein. There, his family owned an inn and other small businesses, inherited by Johann Jakob's elder brother Peter.[1] Johann Jakob, against the family's will, pursued a career in music, taking lessons from "a local musician" until 1825.[1] He departed for the city of Hamburg, where he found work playing dance music, at first in taverns in the dockside district. He was proficient on several instruments, but chose the double bass, as it was "indispensable in an ensemble of any size."[1] In time he was appointed as a horn player in the Hamburg militia, giving him an "assured, though very small, income", and played the double bass in the "Alster-Pavilion", a higher class establishment than the previous taverns.[2] Johann Jakob's musical career culminated when he became a member of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra.[3] In 1830, he had married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen (1789–1865), a seamstress never previously married, who was 17 years older than he was. Johannes Brahms had an elder sister Elisabeth (Elise) and a younger brother Fritz Friedrich. The family lived near the city docks, in the Gängeviertel quarter of Hamburg's Neustadt for six months, before moving to a small house on the Dammtorwall, a small street near the Inner Alster.

Johann Jakob gave his son his first musical training. He studied piano from the age of seven with Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel,[4] a student of the pianist and composer Eduard Marxsen.[5] Marxsen had studied in Vienna with Ignaz von Seyfried (a pupil of Mozart) and Carl Maria von Bocklet (a close friend of Schubert).

At the age of 10, Brahms played in a concert including a Beethoven piano quintet and a Mozart piano quartet. An impresario proposed an American concert tour for the prodigy Brahms, but Cossel enlisted Marxsen to argue against a tour for one so young.[6] Marxsen began giving young Brahms lessons in piano and composition himself, not requesting any payment.[7] Owing to the family's poverty, at age 13 Brahms had to begin contributing to the family's income by playing the piano in "taverns, restaurants, and other places of amusement".[8] Early biographers found this shocking, perhaps not realising that Johann Jakob had performed in such places himself, and played down this portion of his life. Some modern writers have suggested that this early experience weighed on Brahms's later relations with women,[9] but Brahms scholars Styra Avins[10] and Kurt Hoffmann[11] have questioned the possibility. Jan Swafford[12] has contributed to the discussion. After playing the piano often "late at night" and in a "smoke-laden atmosphere", the young Brahms is said to have become "anemic and nervous".[13] He spent parts of the summers of 1847 and 1848 in the household of a friend of his father's, Adolf Giesemann, in the rural village of Winsen an der Luhe about 25 km southeast of Hamburg.[14]

For a time, Brahms also learned the cello.[15] The young Brahms gave a few public concerts in Hamburg, but did not become well-known as a pianist until he made a concert tour at the age of 19. (In later life, he frequently took part in the performance of his own works, whether as soloist, accompanist, or participant in chamber music.) He conducted choirs from his early teens, and became a proficient choral and orchestral conductor.

Early career[edit]

Brahms in 1853

Brahms began to compose quite early in life, but later destroyed most copies of his first works; Louise Japha, a fellow-pupil of Marxsen, reported that a piano sonata Brahms had played or improvised at the age of 11 had been destroyed. His compositions did not receive public acclaim until he went on a concert tour as accompanist to the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi in April and May 1853. In late May the two visited the violinist and composer Joseph Joachim at Hanover. Brahms had earlier heard Joachim playing the solo part in Beethoven's violin concerto and been deeply impressed.Brahms played some of his own solo piano pieces for Joachim, and soon the two became friends for the rest of their lives.[16]

Brahms and Reményi went on to the Court of Weimar where Brahms met Franz Liszt, Peter Cornelius, and Joachim Raff. According to some witnesses of Brahms's meeting with Liszt (at which Liszt performed Brahms's Scherzo, Op. 4, at sight), Liszt and Reményi were offended by Brahms's "indifference" to Liszt's creative work, and Reményi and Brahms parted company shortly afterwards.[17]

Brahms and the Schumanns[edit]

At some time before 1853 when Robert Schumann had been in Hamburg, Brahms sent to him a packet of scores of his compositions, but at that point the name Brahms was unfamiliar to Schumann, and he had returned the packet unopened.[18] In 1853 Joachim had given Brahms a letter of introduction to Schumann, and/or had directly written to Schumann praising Brahms as a composer.[19] After a walking tour in the Rhineland, Brahms took the train to Düsseldorf, and was welcomed into the Schumann family on Oct. 1, 1853. Schumann, amazed by the 20-year-old's talent, published an article entitled "Neue Bahnen" (New Paths) in the 28 October 1853 issue of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik alerting the public to the young man, who, he claimed, was "destined to give ideal expression to the times."[20] This pronouncement impressed people who were admirers of Robert or Clara Schumann; for example, in Hamburg, a music publisher and the conductor of the Philharmonic,[21] but it was received with some skepticism by others. It may have increased Brahms's self-critical need to perfect his works. He wrote to Robert, "Revered Master," in November 1853, that his praise "Will arouse such extraordinary expectations by the public that I don't know how I can begin to fulfil them ..."[22] While he was in Düsseldorf, Brahms participated with Schumann and Albert Dietrich in writing a sonata for Joachim; this is known as the "F–A–E Sonata – Free but Lonely" (German: Frei aber einsam). Schumann's wife Clara, wrote in her diary about his first visit that Brahms

is one of those who comes as if straight from God. – He played us sonatas, scherzos etc. of his own, all of them showing exuberant imagination, depth of feeling, and mastery of form ... what he played to us is so masterly that one cannot but think that the good God sent him into the world ready-made. He has a great future before him, for he will first find the true field for his genius when he begins to write for the orchestra.[23]

After Robert Schumann's attempted suicide and subsequent confinement in a mental sanatorium near Bonn in February 1854, Clara was "in despair," expecting the Schumanns' eighth child.[24] Brahms hurried to Düsseldorf. He and/or Joachim, Dietrich, and Julius Otto Grimm visited Clara often in March 1854, to divert her mind from Robert's tragedy by playing music for or with her.[25] Clara wrote in her diary

that good Brahms always shows himself a most sympathetic friend. He does not say much, but one can see in his face … how he grieves with me for the loved one whom he so highly reveres. Besides, he is so kind in seizing every opportunity of cheering me by means of anything musical. From so young a man I cannot but be doubly conscious of the sacrifice, for a sacrifice it undoubtedly is for anyone to be with me now.[26]

Later, to help Clara and her many children, Brahms lodged above the Schumann apartment in a three-storey house, setting his musical career aside temporarily. Clara was not allowed to visit Robert until two days before his death. Brahms was able to visit him several times[27] and so could act as a go-between. In a concert in Leipzig in October 1854, Clara played the Andante and Scherzo from Brahms's Sonata in F minor, Op. 5, "the first time his music was played in public."[28]

Brahms and Clara, who was 14 years older than he, had a very close and lifelong relationship, which included both great affection but also respect for one another. Some of Brahms's earliest letters to Clara, starting in 1854, show him deeply in love with her. Clara's preserved letters to Brahms, except for one, begin much later, in 1858.[29] Hans Gál cautions that the preserved correspondence may have "passed through Clara's censorship."[30] In a letter to her 24 May 1856, two and a half years after meeting her, and after two years either together or corresponding, Brahms wrote that he continued to use for her the German polite form "Sie" (for"you") and hesitated to use the familiar form "Du."[31] Clara agreed that they call one another "Du," writing in her diary "I could not refuse, for indeed I love him like a son".[32] Brahms wrote on 31 May: "I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you, and do as many good things for you, as you would like. You are so infinitely dear to me that I can hardly express it. I should like to call you darling and lots of other names, without ever getting enough of adoring you."[33][34] Most preserved letters after this date are about music and musical people, updating one another about their travels and experiences. Brahms much valued Clara's opinions as a composer. "There was no composition by Brahms that was not shown to Clara the moment it was in shape to be communicated. She remained his faithfully devoted adviser."[35]

Brahms's conflict between his love of Clara and respect for her and Robert, led him to allude at one point to suicidal thoughts.[36] Not long after Robert died, Brahms decided he had to break away from the Schumann household. He took leave rather brusquely, leaving Clara feeling hurt.[37] But Brahms and Clara maintained correspondence. Brahms joined Clara and some of her children for some summer sojourns. In a letter to Joachim in 1859, three years after Robert's death, Brahms wrote about Clara: "I believe that I do not respect and admire her so much as I love her and am under her spell. Often I must forcibly restrain myself from just quietly putting my arms around her and even—I don't know, it seems so natural that she would not take it ill."[33][38]

In 1862, Clara bought a house in Lichtental, near Baden-Baden, and lived there with her remaining family from 1863 to 1873. Brahms from 1865 to 1874 spent parts of some summers living in an apartment nearby in a house which is now a museum, the "Brahmshaus" (Brahms house).[39] Brahms appears in later years as a rather avuncular figure in the account of the Schumann's daughter Eugenie.[40] Clara and Brahms undertook a concert tour together, in November–December 1868 in Vienna, then in early 1869 to England, then Holland; the tour ended in April 1869.[41] After Clara moved from Lichtental to Berlin in 1873, the two saw each other less often, as Brahms had his home in Vienna from 1863 onwards. Brahms urged Xlara, in 1887 that their correspondence should be destroyed. In fact Clara kept a number of letters Brahms had sent her, and refrained from destroying many of the letters Brahms had returned.[42] The surviving correspondence was eventually published.[43]

Detmold and Hamburg[edit]

After Robert Schumann's death at the sanatorium in 1856, Brahms divided his time between Hamburg, where he formed and conducted a ladies' choir, and Detmold in the Principality of Lippe, where he was court music-teacher and conductor. Brahms never married, despite strong feelings for several women and despite entering into an engagement, soon broken off, with Agathe von Siebold in Göttingen in 1859. It seems that Brahms was rather indiscreet about the relationship while it lasted, which troubled his friends. After breaking off the engagement, Brahms wrote to Agathe: "I love you! I must see you again, but I am incapable of bearing fetters. Please write me whether I may come again to clasp you in my arms, to kiss you, and tell you that I love you." But they never saw one another again.[44]

Brahms was the soloist at the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1, his first orchestral composition to be performed publicly, in 1859. He first visited Vienna in 1862, staying there over the winter, and, in 1863, was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie. Though he resigned the position the following year, and entertained the idea of taking up conducting posts elsewhere, he based himself increasingly in Vienna and soon made his home there. From 1872 to 1875, he was director of the concerts of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde; afterwards, he accepted no formal position. He declined an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Cambridge in 1877, but accepted one from the University of Breslau in 1879, and composed the Academic Festival Overture in response to the University's request for a piece in honor of the occasion.[45]

He composed steadily throughout the 1850s and 60s, but his music had evoked divided critical responses, and the first Piano Concerto had been badly received in some of its early performances. His works were labelled old-fashioned by the 'New German School' whose leaders included Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Brahms admired some of Wagner's music and considered Liszt a great pianist, but a conflict developed between the School and the followers of Brahms. In the Brahms camp were his close friends: Clara Schumann, Joachim, the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick, and the leading Viennese surgeon Theodor Billroth. In 1860, Brahms attempted to organize a public protest against some of the manifestations of the music of the Wagnerian school. A manifesto, written by Brahms and Joachim jointly,was published prematurely with only three supporting signatures, was a failure, and he never engaged in public polemics again.[46]

Years of fame[edit]

Johann Strauss II (left) and Johannes Brahms (right) photographed in Vienna

The premiere of A German Requiem, his largest choral work, in Bremen in 1868 confirmed Brahms's European reputation.[citation needed] This may have given him the confidence finally to complete a number of works that he had wrestled with over many years such as the cantata Rinaldo, his first string quartet, third piano quartet, and most notably his first symphony. This appeared in 1876, though it had been begun (and a version of the first movement seen by some of his friends) in the early 1860s. The other three symphonies then followed in 1877, 1883, and 1885. From 1881, he was able to try out his new orchestral works with the Meiningen Court Orchestra of the Duke of Meiningen, whose conductor was Hans von Bülow. He was the soloist at the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1881, in Pest.[47] Also in 1881, Brahms received an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau, now Wrocław, Poland. In response[48] he wrote the Academic Festival Overture, which uses themes from German student drinking songs, in "ironic" contrast to the expected mood of an academic ceremony.[49][50]

Brahms became acquainted with Johann Strauss II, who was eight years his senior, in the 1870s, but their close friendship belongs to the years 1889 and after. Brahms admired much of Strauss's music, and encouraged the composer to sign up with his publisher Simrock. He made the effort, three weeks before his death, to attend the premiere of Strauss's operetta Die Göttin der Vernunft in March 1897. In autographing a fan for Strauss's wife Adele, Brahms wrote the opening notes of notes of The Blue Danube waltz adding the words "unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms".[51]

In 1875, the composer Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was still virtually unknown outside the Prague region. Brahms was on the jury which awarded the Vienna State Prize for composition to Dvořák three times, first in February 1875, and later in 1876 and 1877.[52] Brahms also recommended Dvořák to his publisher, Simrock.[citation needed]

Brahms frequently travelled, both for business (concert tours) and pleasure. From 1878 onwards, he often visited Italy in the springtime and he usually sought out a pleasant rural location in which to compose during the summer. He was a great walker and especially enjoyed spending time in the open air, where he felt that he could think more clearly.[citation needed]

In 1889, Theo Wangemann, a representative of American inventor Thomas Edison, visited the composer in Vienna and invited him to make an experimental recording. Brahms played an abbreviated version of his first Hungarian dance and Die Libelle on the piano. The recording was later issued on an LP of early piano performances (compiled by Gregor Benko). Although the spoken introduction to the short piece of music is quite clear, the piano playing is largely inaudible due to heavy surface noise.[53] Nevertheless, this remains the earliest recording made by a major composer.[citation needed] Analysts and scholars remain divided, however, as to whether the voice that introduces the piece is that of Wangemann or of Brahms. Several attempts have been made to improve the quality of this historic recording; a "denoised" version was produced at Stanford University which claims to solve the mystery.[54]

In 1889, Brahms was named an honorary citizen of Hamburg, until 1948 the only one born in Hamburg.[55]

Later years and death[edit]

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

In 1890, the 57-year-old Brahms resolved to give up composing.[citation needed] However, as it turned out, he was unable to abide by his decision, and in the years before his death he produced a number of acknowledged masterpieces. His admiration for Richard Mühlfeld, clarinetist with the Meiningen orchestra, moved him to compose the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 (1891), and the two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120 (1894).

In November 1892 Brahms declined an invitation from Cambridge University to visit there and receive an honorary degree.[56] His first symphony, as yet unpublished, had had its English premiere, conducted by Joachim, in Cambridge 8 March 1877,[57] in Brahms's absence, possibly occasioned by aversion to seasickness. Brahms also wrote several cycles of piano pieces, Opp. 116–119 (the intermezzi, Op. 117, have sometimes been called "lullabies"),[58] the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121 (1896), and the Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122 (1896).

While completing the Op. 121 songs, Brahms developed cancer (sources differ on whether this was of the liver or pancreas). His last appearance in public was on 3 March 1897, when he saw Hans Richter conduct his Symphony No. 4. There was an ovation after each of the four movements. His condition gradually worsened and he died a month later, on 3 April 1897, aged 63. Brahms is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, under a monument by Victor Horta and the sculptor Ilse von Twardowski-Conrat.[59]


The British composer Hubert Parry, who considered Brahms the greatest artist of the time, wrote an orchestral Elegy for Brahms in 1897. This was never played in Parry's lifetime, receiving its first performance at a memorial concert for Parry himself in 1918.[citation needed]

From 1904 to 1914, Brahms's friend, the music critic Max Kalbeck published an eight-volume biography of Brahms, but this has never been translated into English.[citation needed] Between 1906 and 1922, the Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft (German Brahms Society) published 16 numbered volumes of Brahms's correspondence, at least 7 of which were edited by Kalbeck. An additional 7 volumes of Brahms's correspondence were published later, including two volumes with Clara Schumann, edited by Marie Schumann.[43][60]



See also: Lists of compositions by Brahms by genre and by opus number

Brahms wrote a number of major works for orchestra, including two serenades, four symphonies, two piano concertos (No. 1 in D minor; No. 2 in B-flat major), a Violin Concerto, a Double Concerto for violin and cello, and two companion orchestral overtures, the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture.

His large choral work A German Requiem is not a setting of the liturgical Missa pro defunctis but a setting of texts which Brahms selected from the Luther Bible. The work was composed in three major periods of his life. An early version of the second movement was first composed in 1854, not long after Robert Schumann's attempted suicide, and this was later used in his first piano concerto. The majority of the Requiem was composed after his mother's death in 1865. The fifth movement was added after the official premiere in 1868, and the work was published in 1869.

Brahms's works in variation form include, among others, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel and the Paganini Variations, both for solo piano, and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn (now sometimes called the Saint Anthony Variations) in versions for two pianos and for orchestra. The final movement of the Fourth Symphony, Op. 98, is formally a passacaglia.

His chamber works include three string quartets, two string quintets, two string sextets, a clarinet quintet, a clarinet trio, a horn trio, a piano quintet, three piano quartets, and four piano trios (the fourth being published posthumously). He composed several instrumental sonatas with piano, including three for violin, two for cello, and two for clarinet (which were subsequently arranged for viola by the composer). His solo piano works range from his early piano sonatas and ballades to his late sets of character pieces. Brahms was a significant Lieder composer, who wrote over 200 of them. His chorale preludes for organ, Op. 122, which he wrote shortly before his death, have become an important part of the organ repertoire.

Brahms was an extreme perfectionist. He destroyed many early works – including a violin sonata he had performed with Reményi and violinist Ferdinand David – and once claimed to have destroyed 20 string quartets before he issued his official First in 1873. Over the course of several years, he changed an original project for a symphony in D minor into his first piano concerto. In another instance of devotion to detail, he laboured over the official First Symphony for almost fifteen years, from about 1861 to 1876. Even after its first few performances, Brahms destroyed the original slow movement and substituted another before the score was published. (A conjectural restoration of the original slow movement has been published by Robert Pascall.)

Another factor that contributed to Brahms's perfectionism was that Schumann had announced early on that Brahms was "destined to give ideal expression to the times",[20] a prediction that Brahms was determined to live up to. This prediction hardly added to the composer's self-confidence, and may have contributed to the delay in producing the First Symphony.

Brahms strongly preferred writing absolute music that does not refer to an explicit scene or narrative, and he never wrote an opera or a symphonic poem.

Despite his reputation as a serious composer of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms's most widely known and most commercially successful compositions during his life were small-scale works of popular intent aimed at the thriving contemporary market for domestic music-making. During the 20th century, the influential American critic B. H. Haggin, rejecting more mainstream views, argued in his various guides to recorded music that Brahms was at his best in such works and much less successful in larger forms.[citation needed] Among the most cherished of these lighter works by Brahms are his sets of popular dances, the Hungarian Dances, the Waltzes for piano duet (Op. 39), and the Liebeslieder Waltzes for vocal quartet and piano, and some of his many songs, notably the Wiegenlied (Op. 49, No. 4, published in 1868). This last was written (to a folk text) to celebrate the birth of a son to Brahms's friend Bertha Faber and is universally known as Brahms's Lullaby.

Style and influences[edit]

Brahms maintained a classical sense of form and order in his works, in contrast to the opulence of the music of many of his contemporaries. Thus, many admirers (though not necessarily Brahms himself) saw him as the champion of traditional forms and "pure music", as opposed to the "New German" embrace of programme music.

Brahms venerated Beethoven; in the composer's home, a marble bust of Beethoven looked down on the spot where he composed, and some passages in his works are reminiscent of Beethoven's style. Brahms's First Symphony bears strongly the influence of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, as the two works are both in C minor and end in the struggle towards a C major triumph. The main theme of the finale of the First Symphony is also reminiscent of the main theme of the finale of Beethoven's Ninth, and when this resemblance was pointed out to Brahms he replied that any dunce[61] could see that. In 1876, when the work was premiered in Vienna, it was immediately hailed as "Beethoven's Tenth". However, the similarity of Brahms's music to that of late Beethoven had first been noted as early as November 1853 in a letter from Albert Dietrich to Ernst Naumann.[62][63]

Brahms was a master of counterpoint. "For Brahms, ... the most complicated forms of counterpoint were a natural means of expressing his emotions," writes Geiringer. "As Palestrina or Bach succeeded in giving spiritual significance to their technique, so Brahms could turn a canon in motu contrario or a canon per augmentationem into a pure piece of lyrical poetry."[64] Writers on Brahms have commented on his use of counterpoint. For example, of Op. 9, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Geiringer writes that Brahms "displays all the resources of contrapuntal art".[65] In the A Major piano quartet Opus 26, Swafford notes that the third movement is "demonic-canonic", echoing Haydn's famous minuet for string quartet called the 'Witch's Round'."[66] Swafford further opines that "thematic development, counterpoint, and form were the dominant technical terms in which Brahms... thought about music".[67]

A German Requiem was partially inspired by his mother's death in 1865 (at which time he composed a funeral march that was to become the basis of Part Two, Denn alles Fleisch), but it also incorporates material from a symphony which he started in 1854 but abandoned following Schumann's suicide attempt. He once wrote that the Requiem "belonged to Schumann". The first movement of this abandoned symphony was re-worked as the first movement of the First Piano Concerto.

Brahms loved the classical composers Mozart and Haydn. He collected first editions and autographs of their works and edited performing editions. He studied the music of pre-classical composers, including Giovanni Gabrieli, Johann Adolph Hasse, Heinrich Schütz, Domenico Scarlatti, George Frideric Handel, and, especially, Johann Sebastian Bach. His friends included leading musicologists, and, with Friedrich Chrysander, he edited an edition of the works of François Couperin. Brahms also edited works by C. P. E. Bach and W. F. Bach. He looked to older music for inspiration in the art of counterpoint; the themes of some of his works are modelled on Baroque sources such as Bach's The Art of Fugue in the fugal finale of Cello Sonata No. 1 or the same composer's Cantata No. 150 in the passacaglia theme of the Fourth Symphony's finale.

The early Romantic composers had a major influence on Brahms, particularly Schumann, who encouraged Brahms as a young composer. During his stay in Vienna in 1862–63, Brahms became particularly interested in the music of Franz Schubert.[68] The latter's influence may be identified in works by Brahms dating from the period, such as the two piano quartets Op. 25 and Op. 26, and the Piano Quintet which alludes to Schubert's String Quintet and Grand Duo for piano four hands.[68][69] The influence of Chopin and Mendelssohn on Brahms is less obvious, although occasionally one can find in his works what seems to be an allusion to one of theirs (for example, Brahms's Scherzo, Op. 4, alludes to Chopin's Scherzo in B-flat minor;[70] the scherzo movement in Brahms's Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5, alludes to the finale of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in C minor).[71]

Brahms considered giving up composition when it seemed that other composers' innovations in extended tonality would result in the rule of tonality being broken altogether. Although Wagner became fiercely critical of Brahms as the latter grew in stature and popularity, he was enthusiastically receptive of the early Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel; Brahms himself, according to many sources,[72] deeply admired Wagner's music, confining his ambivalence only to the dramaturgical precepts of Wagner's theory.

Brahms wrote settings for piano and voice of 144 German folk songs, and many of his lieder reflect folk themes or depict scenes of rural life. His Hungarian Dances were among his most profitable compositions.


Brahms' point of view looked both backward and forward; his output was often bold in its exploration of harmony and rhythm. As a result, he was an influence on composers of both conservative and modernist tendencies. Within his lifetime, his idiom left an imprint on several composers within his personal circle, who strongly admired his music, such as Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Robert Fuchs, and Julius Röntgen, as well as on Gustav Jenner, who was Brahms's only formal composition pupil. Antonín Dvořák, who received substantial assistance from Brahms, deeply admired his music and was influenced by it in several works, such as the Symphony No. 7 in D minor and the F minor Piano Trio. Features of the "Brahms style" were absorbed in a more complex synthesis with other contemporary (chiefly Wagnerian) trends by Hans Rott, Wilhelm Berger, Max Reger and Franz Schmidt, whereas the British composers Hubert Parry and Edward Elgar and the Swede Wilhelm Stenhammar all testified to learning much from Brahms's example. As Elgar said, "I look at the Third Symphony of Brahms, and I feel like a pygmy."[73]

Ferruccio Busoni's early music shows much Brahmsian influence, and Brahms took an interest in him, though Busoni later tended to disparage Brahms. Towards the end of his life, Brahms offered substantial encouragement to Ernő Dohnányi and to Alexander von Zemlinsky. Their early chamber works (and those of Béla Bartók, who was friendly with Dohnányi) show a thoroughgoing absorption of the Brahmsian idiom. Zemlinsky, moreover, was in turn the teacher of Arnold Schoenberg, and Brahms was apparently impressed by two movements of Schoenberg's early Quartet in D major which Zemlinsky showed him. In 1933, Schoenberg wrote an essay "Brahms the Progressive" (re-written 1947), which drew attention to Brahms's fondness for motivic saturation and irregularities of rhythm and phrase; in his last book (Structural Functions of Harmony, 1948), he analysed Brahms's "enriched harmony" and exploration of remote tonal regions. These efforts paved the way for a re-evaluation of Brahms's reputation in the 20th century. Schoenberg went so far as to orchestrate one of Brahms's piano quartets. Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern, in his 1933 lectures, posthumously published under the title The Path to the New Music, claimed Brahms as one who had anticipated the developments of the Second Viennese School, and Webern's own Op. 1, an orchestral passacaglia, is clearly in part a homage to, and development of, the variation techniques of the passacaglia-finale of Brahms's Fourth Symphony.

Brahms was honoured in the German hall of fame, the Walhalla memorial. On 14 September 2000, he was introduced there as the 126th "rühmlich ausgezeichneter Teutscher" and 13th composer among them, with a bust by sculptor Milan Knobloch (de).[74]


Brahms was fond of nature and often went walking in the woods around Vienna. He often brought penny candy with him to hand out to children. To adults Brahms was often brusque and sarcastic, and he often alienated other people. His pupil Gustav Jenner wrote, "Brahms has acquired, not without reason, the reputation for being a grump, even though few could also be as lovable as he."[75] He also had predictable habits, which were noted by the Viennese press, such as his daily visit to his favourite "Red Hedgehog" tavern in Vienna, and his habit of walking with his hands firmly behind his back, which led to a caricature of him in this pose walking alongside a red hedgehog. Those who remained his friends were very loyal to him, however, and he reciprocated with equal loyalty and generosity.

Brahms had amassed a small fortune in the second half of his career, when his works sold widely, but despite his wealth, he lived very simply, with a modest apartment, a mess of music papers and books, and a single housekeeper who cleaned and cooked for him. He was often the butt of jokes for his long beard, his cheap clothes and often not wearing socks. Brahms gave away large sums of money to friends and to aid various musical students, often with the term of strict secrecy. Brahms' domicile was hit during World War II, destroying his piano and other possessions that were still kept there for posterity by the Viennese.[9]

Religious beliefs[edit]

Brahms' personal views tended to be humanistic and skeptical, though one of his influences was undoubtedly the Bible as rendered in German by Martin Luther. His Requiem employs biblical texts primarily to speak words of comfort to the bereaved, yet it also cites Hebrews 13:14 ("here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come") and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 ("the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed"). Composer Walter Niemann declared "The fact that Brahms began his creative activity with the German folk song and closed with the Bible reveals... the true religious creed of this great man of the people." Some present-day biographers and critics view Brahms's appreciation of Lutheran tradition more as cultural than existential.[76] When asked by conductor Karl Reinthaler to add additional sectarian text to his German Requiem, Brahms is reported to have responded, "As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with passages like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors I can't delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much."[77]

On his religious views, Brahms has been described as an agnostic and a humanist.[78][79] The devout Catholic Antonín Dvořák, the closest Brahms ever came to having a protégé, wrote in a letter: "Such a man, such a fine soul—and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!"[80] Yet Brahms's final vocal and instrumental works, dating from 1896, are, respectively, Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), for voice and piano, Op. 121, settings of biblical texts; and Eleven Chorale Preludes, for organ, Op. 122, based upon nine Lutheran chorales.

The question of Brahms and religiosity has been controversial and elicited accusations of fraud. One example is the 1955 volume Talks With Great Composers,[81] by journalist and music critic Arthur Abell (Berlin correspondent for the Musical Courier from 1893 to 1918).[82] Abell's book contains reminiscences of his conversations with Brahms, Joseph Joachim, and several other composers he knew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This interview is viewed as fraudulent by Brahms biographer Jan Swafford.[12]



  1. ^ a b c Geiringer (1981), p. 4
  2. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 5
  3. ^ Geiringer, p. 12
  4. ^ Clive, Peter, Brahms and His World: A Biographical Dictionary, A Google Book, p. xi
  5. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 16
  6. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 17
  7. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 18
  8. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 19
  9. ^ a b Richard A. Leonard, abridged from The Stream of Music; Doubleday & Co., 1943
  10. ^ Avins (2001)
  11. ^ Kurt Hoffmann, Johannes Brahms und Hamburg (Reinbek, 1986) (in German: includes detailed refutation of the traditional story of Brahms playing piano in brothels, using the writings of those who knew the young Brahms, as well as evidence of Hamburg's close regulation of those places, preventing the employment of children)
  12. ^ a b Swafford (2001)
  13. ^ Geiringer, p. 20
  14. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 20
  15. ^ Hoffmann (1999) Kurt. "Brahms the Hamburg musician 1833–1863" Cambridge. Musgrave (editor) Michael The Cambridge Companion to Brahms Cambridge University Press, p. 9
  16. ^ Geiringer (1981), pp. 28-29
  17. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 31
  18. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 25
  19. ^ Gál, p. 7
  20. ^ a b Schumann, Robert (28 October 1853). "Neue Bahnen". Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (in German). Leipzig: Bruno Hinze. 39 (18): 185–186. 
  21. ^ Avins, p. 33
  22. ^ Avins (1997), p. 24
  23. ^ Litzmann, pp. 42–43
  24. ^ Gál, p. 9
  25. ^ Litzmann, pp. 61–62, 69, 71
  26. ^ Litzmann, p. 69
  27. ^ Gál, p. 10
  28. ^ Avins, p. 65.
  29. ^ Litzmann, pp. 87, 89
  30. ^ Gál, pp. 89–90
  31. ^ Briefe, no. 101
  32. ^ Litzmann, p. 94
  33. ^ a b Gál, p. 90
  34. ^ Briefe, no. 102.
  35. ^ Gál, p. 91
  36. ^ Gál, p. 117
  37. ^ Eugenie Schumann, p. 154
  38. ^ Gál writes that this letter was not in the published (1908) two volumes of Brahms-Joachim correspondence but was "brought to light by Arthur Holde in The Musical Quarterly (New York: July, 1959)." Avins, pp. 46–48, gives a translation of the whole letter, saying that most of it had been published, but not the just quoted passage, which she says is "restored here [with a little different translation] from the autograph."
  39. ^
  40. ^ Eugenie Schumann, pp. 141–151, 159–166
  41. ^ Briefe, Band I, p. 603, footnote
  42. ^ Gál, p. 89
  43. ^ a b Clara Schumann and Brahms, "Briefe"
  44. ^ Gál, pp. 94–95,
  45. ^ Swafford 1997, p. 462
  46. ^ Swafford (1997) pp. 206–211
  47. ^ "About this recording". Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  48. ^ Gál, p. 19
  49. ^ Short article on the Academic Festival Overture in A. Latham, ed., Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford University Press, 2003
  50. ^ Swafford 1997, p. 462
  51. ^ Lamb (1975), pp. 869-870
  52. ^ Clapham, John, Dvořák, Norton, 1979, pp. 35, 39, 42
  53. ^ J. Brahms plays excerpt of Hungarian Dance No. 1 (2:10) on YouTube
  54. ^ "Brahms at the Piano" by Jonathan Berger (CCRMA, Stanford University)
  55. ^ Stadt Hamburg Ehrenbürger (German) Retrieved 17 June 2008
  56. ^ Frisch and Karnes, p. xxx
  57. ^ Frisch and Karnes, p. 443
  58. ^ Hyperion Records. Retrieved 19 May 2016
  59. ^ Zentralfriedhof group 32a, details
  60. ^ "Johannes Brahms – Wikisource", (in German). There are two volumes of correspondence with Joachim, and four volumes with Brahms's main publisher, Simrock
  61. ^ Brahms used the German word "Esel", of which one translation is "donkey" and another is "dunce": Cassell's New German Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls, New York and London, 1915
  62. ^ Constantin Floros, Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch, Johannes Brahms, Free But Alone: A Life for a Poetic Music
  63. ^ Albert Dietrich, J V Widman, Dora Hecht, Recollections of Johannes Brahms
  64. ^ Geiringer (1981), p. 159
  65. ^ Geiringer, p. 210.
  66. ^ Swafford (2012), p. 159.
  67. ^ Swafford (2012), p. xviii
  68. ^ a b James Webster, "Schubert's sonata form and Brahms's first maturity (II)", 19th-Century Music 3(1) (1979), pp. 52–71.
  69. ^ Donald Francis Tovey, "Franz Schubert" (1927), rpt. in Essays and Lectures on Music (London, 1949), p. 123. Cf. his similar remarks in "Tonality in Schubert" (1928), rpt. ibid., p. 151.
  70. ^ Charles Rosen, "Influence: plagiarism and inspiration", 19th-Century Music 4(2) (1980), pp. 87–100.
  71. ^ H. V. Spanner, "What is originality?", The Musical Times 93(1313) (1952), pp. 310–311.
  72. ^ Swafford (1999)
  73. ^ MacDonald, Brahms (1990), p. 406.
  74. ^ "Johannes Brahms hält Einzug in die Walhalla". Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst. 14 September 2000. Retrieved 23 April 2008. 
  75. ^ 6 Nov 2008 1:30 pm by Kelly Wilson (6 November 2008). "Brahms as Man, Teacher, and Artist". Retrieved 12 February 2010. 
  76. ^ Beller-McKenna, Daniel. Brahms and the German Spirit. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2004, ISBN 0-674-01318-2.
  77. ^ Musgrave, Michael (1996). Brahms: A German Requiem. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521409957. [page needed]
  78. ^ Swafford, 2012, p. 327: "He continued, in high theological mode. Brahms was not about to put up with that sort of thing. He was a humanist and an agnostic, and his Requiem was going to express that, Reinthaler or no."
  79. ^ Sams, Eric (2000). The Songs of Johannes Brahms. Yale University Press. p. 326. ISBN 9780300079623. But the thought of bright nearness brings back the face-to-face music of 'Von Angesicht zu Angesichte', which is as close as the agnostic Brahms ever came to a communion with deity. As the pious aria ends, the humanist moral returns. 
  80. ^ Swafford, 1997
  81. ^ Abell, Arthur. Talks with Great Composers. Citadel Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0806515656.
  82. ^ Fran Barulich; Bob Kosovsky, archivists; New York Public Library Archives for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (2006). "Guide to the Arthur M. Abell Papers" (PDF). New York Public Library. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 


  • Avins, Styra (ed.), (1997). Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters (1997). Translated by Joseph Eisinger and S. Avins. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198162346
  • Avins, Styra (2001). "The Young Brahms: Biographical Data Reexamined". 19th-Century Music. 24 (3): 276–289. doi:10.1525/ncm.2001.24.3.276. JSTOR 746931. 
  • Becker, Heinz (1980). "Brahms, Johannes", in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, vol. 3, pp. 154–190. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333231112
  • Frisch, Walter and Karnes, Kevin C., (eds.), (2009).Brahms and His World (Revised Edition). Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691143446
  • Gál, Hans, (1963). Johannes Brahms: His Work and Personality. Tr. Joseph Stein. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Geiringer, Karl, (1981). Brahms: His Life and Work, Third Ed. New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-80223-6
  • Lamb, Andrew (1975). "Brahms and Johann Strauss" in The Musical Times vol. 116 no. 1592 (October 1975), pp. 869-871. JSTOR 959201
  • Litzmann, Berthold, (1913). Clara Schumann: An Artist's Life based on Material found in Diaries and Letters, tr. and abridged from the fourth German edition by Grace E. Hadow. 2 vols. London: Macmillan.
  • Schumann, Clara, and Brahms, Johannes, ed. Berthold Lutzmann (1927). Briefe aus den Jahren 1853–1896, two vols. Leipzig. (In German)
  • Schumann, Eugenie, tr. Marie Busch (1991). The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms: The Memoirs of Eugenie Schumann. Lawrence, Mass: Music Book Society. ISBN 1-878156-01-2
  • Schumann, Robert, tr. and ed. Henry Pleasants (1988). Schumann on Music. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0486257487
  • Swafford, Jan, (1997). Johannes Brahms: A biography. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0679745823.
  • Swafford, Jan (2001). "Did the Young Brahms Play Piano in Waterfront Bars?". 19th-Century Music. 24 (3): 268–275. doi:10.1525/ncm.2001.24.3.268. ISSN 0148-2076. Retrieved 30 October 2007. 
  • Taruskin, Richard (2010). Music in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: OXford University Press. ISBN 9780195384833

Further reading[edit]

  • Deiters/Newmarch. (1888). Johannes Brahms: A Biographical Sketch. Fisher Unwin (reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-1-108-00479-4)
  • Charles Rosen discusses a number of Brahms's imitations of Beethoven in chapter 9 of his Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New (2000; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-17730-4).
  • Brahms by Malcolm MacDonald is a biography and discussion of virtually everything Brahms composed, along with chapters examining his position in Romantic music, his devotion to Early Music, and his influence on later composers. (Dent 'Master Musicians' series, 1990; 2nd edition Oxford, 2001, ISBN 0-19-816484-X)
  • Late Idyll: The Second Symphony of Johannes Brahms, by Reinhold Brinkmann, translated by Peter Palmer. An analysis of Symphony No. 2 and meditation of its position in Brahms's career and in relation to 19th century ideas of melancholy. (1995, Harvard, ISBN 0-674-51175-1)
  • The Music of Brahms, by Michael Musgrave. Oxford, 1985 ISBN 0-19-816401-7

External links[edit]

Sheet music