Johannes Brahms

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Brahms, Johannes

(brämz, Ger. yōhän`nĕs bräms), 1833–97, German composer, b. Hamburg. Brahms ranks among the greatest masters of the romantic period. The son of a musician, he early showed astonishing talent in many directions; he chose as a boy to become a pianist. As accompanist to the violinist Eduard Reményi he attracted the notice of Johann Joachim, who introduced him to leading musical circles. Brahms became the devoted friend of Robert and Clara SchumannSchumann, Robert Alexander
, 1810–56, German composer. Both as a composer and as a highly articulate music critic he was a leader of the romantic movement. He studied theory with Heinrich Dorn and piano with Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter Clara he married.
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, both of whom admired his compositions. His later activities as pianist and as choral conductor were not very successful, but after he settled in Vienna his compositions brought him enough money to support himself in simple comfort. Brahms never married, although he had several love affairs and remained deeply attached to Clara Schumann for years after her husband's death.

In his music the romantic impulse is restrained by a reverence for the forms of the past. This blend of romantic feeling and classical spirit is exemplified in such works as his Variations on a Theme by Handel (1861), for piano, and the orchestral composition Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873). In his day, Brahms's conservative romanticism was contrasted with Richard WagnerWagner, Richard
, 1813–83, German composer, b. Leipzig. Life and Work

Wagner was reared in a theatrical family, had a classical education, and began composing at 17.
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's dramatic romantic style, and a controversy raged between supporters of Brahms and the followers of the "neo-German" school led by LisztLiszt, Franz
, 1811–86, Hungarian composer and pianist. Liszt was a revolutionary figure of romantic music and was acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He made his debut at nine, going thereafter to Vienna to study with Czerny and Salieri.
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 and Wagner. His extreme self-criticism led him to destroy much of what he composed, limiting the number of his existing works but ensuring a uniformly high quality.

Brahms wrote four symphonies, which are considered among the greatest in symphonic music. Major choral works include Ein deutsches Requiem [a German requiem] (1866) and Schicksalslied [song of destiny] (1868), both for chorus and orchestra. The Violin Concerto in D (1878), the Piano Concerto in B Flat (1878–81), and the Piano Quintet in F Minor (1864) are staples of the concert repertory. Brahms also composed sonatas, capriccios, intermezzos—works in almost every genre except opera. Throughout his life he devoted attention to chamber music and songs, which vary from simple accompaniments for folk songs to solemn compositions such as Vier ernste Gesange [four serious songs] (1896). Many of his exquisite romantic lieder, in which the words, melody, and piano accompaniment are inseparably blended, are favorites among singers, and his lullaby has long been a familiar melody throughout the world.

Bibliography

See his letters, ed. by M. Kalbeck (1909), Life and Letters (1997), S. Avins, ed.; biographies by H. Gal (tr. 1963, repr. 1977), K. Geiringer (3d ed. 1981), and J. Swafford (1997); studies by B. James (1972) and G. S. Bozarth (1989).

Brahms, Johannes

 

Born May 7, 1833, in Hamburg; died Apr. 3,1897, in Vienna. German composer, pianist, and conductor.

Brahms’ father was a contrabassist. Brahms studied music with his father, then with E. Marxsen. Experiencing severe need, Brahms worked as a pianist at dances, gave private lessons, and did arrangements of salon music. At the same time, he composed a great deal, although later he destroyed the majority of his early works. At age 20, Brahms made a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist E. Reményi, during which he met Liszt, J. Joachim, and Schumann. In 1853, Schumann enthusiastically hailed the talent of the young Brahms in the New Musical Journal. Beginning in the late 1850’s, Brahms was a conductor of amateur choirs. In 1862 he moved to Vienna, where he performed successfully as a pianist and later, as choral conductor of the Singakademie and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In the mid-1870’s, Brahms devoted himself completely to his work, performed his own music as a conductor and pianist, and traveled a great deal. The last years of Brahms’ life were darkened by a tormenting illness.

Brahms did not support either side in the complicated struggle between supporters of Liszt and Wagner (the Weimar school) and the imitators of Mendelssohn and Schumann (the Leipzig school). He profoundly and consistently developed classical traditions, which he enriched with new romantic contents. Brahms’ music sings the freedom of the personality, moral fortitude, and courage. It is filled with anxiety about the fate of man and imbued with impetuosity, restlessness, and trembling lyricism. At times there is an epic power in the music. A freely improvised harmony is combined with sternly disciplined thought and logical development in Brahms’ music.

Brahms’ musical legacy is broad and encompasses many genres (with the exception of opera). Brahms’ four symphonies (1876, 1877, 1883, and 1885), the last of which is particularly outstanding, were among the greatest achievements in symphonic composition in the latter half of the 19th century. Like Beethoven and Schubert, Brahms understood the cyclic composition of the symphony as an instrumental drama whose parts are united by a defined poetic idea. The instrumental concertos, which are viewed as symphonies with solo instruments, are second to Brahms’ symphonies in their artistic significance. Brahms’ Violin Concerto (1878) is among the most popular works in this genre. The Concerto No. 2 for piano (1881) is also well-known. The most important of Brahms’ vocal orchestral works is A German Requiem (1968), with its epic scope and moving lyrics. Brahms’ varied vocal music (more than 200 solo songs) contains the most spontaneous feelings in his works. Songs in folk style are prominent among Brahms’ vocal works. His settings of folk songs (about 100) delicately emphasize the beauty of folk melodies.

The chamber music works belong primarily to the early period of Brahms’ creative quests (the Piano Trio No. 1, the Piano Quintet, and others) and to the last period of Brahms’ life, when he wrote his best chamber works. An intensification of heroic epic qualities and, at the same time, a subjective lyrical tendency are characteristic of the chamber works (the second and third piano trios, sonatas for violin and piano, sonatos for cello and piano, and others). Brahms’ piano works are distinguished by close contrapuntal development of the texture, delicate elaboration of motifs, and virtuoso effects that are subordinate in their expression to the content of the work.

In his later years Brahms, who had begun with sonata cycles, wrote mainly miniatures for the piano. The waltzes and Hungarian Dances, which show his admiration of Hungarian folklore, are particularly distinguished among these works. In his last period of creativity Brahms wrote piano chamber music (capriccios and intermezzos). He also composed two serenades, Variations on a Theme by Haydyn, overtures for orchestra, vocal ensembles, choruses, and other works.

WORKS

Sämtliche Werke, vols. 1–26. Issued by Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Leipzig, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1926–28.
Breifwechsel, vols. 1–16. Published by Deutschen Brahms-Gesellschaft. Berlin, 1907–1922.

REFERENCES

Sollertinskii, I. “Simfonii Bramsa.” In his collection Muzykal’ no-istoricheskie etiudy. Leningrad, 1956. Second ed.: Leningrad, 1963.
Druskin, M. I. Brams, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1963.
Geiringer, K. I. Brams. Moscow, 1970. (Translated from German.)
Kalbeck, M. Johannes Brahms, vols. 1–4. Berlin, 1904–14.
Grasberger, F. Johannes Brahms: Variationen um sein Wesen. Vienna, 1952.

M. S. DRUSKIN