Biography of Johannes Brahms, The Great Composer
Johannes Brahms was one of the most important composers at the end of the 19th century, writer of four symphonies. He was known for his keeping with the classical traditions of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, in contrast with Wagner, and the Romantic school of his time.
Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833, the son of an innkeeper/musician named Johann Jakob. He started composing music at a tender age, and when he was a teenager, he gave lessons and played in the bars and dance halls to help out his family. His first more professional work was conducting a small male choir, for which he wrote some of his first vocal music. In 1850, he met, Eduard Remeny, a Jewish Hungarian violist, who introduced to Brahms the world of gypsy music, which would later inspire his Hungarian dances.
In 1853, Brahms’ career took a positive turn when he met Joseph Joachim, a young violin virtuoso, who noticed his talent, introducing him to Franz Liszt, and Robert Schumann, who helped Brahms become recognized in the musical world. Later on, he would become great friends with Schumann, and when Schumann became ill, he helped to take care of his large family.
In 1859, Brahms was appointed conductor of a women’s choir in Hamburg, where he gained valuable experience, at the same time continuing composing two Serenades for orchestra, and his first String Sextet, as well as his first Piano Concerto, which at the time was only well received in Hamburg.
In 1863, after giving concerts in Vienna, Brahms became the conductor of the Singakademie there. He became more and more famous, able to earn an income through his composition. When his mother died in 1865, he began to work on the German Requiem, one of his most famous works, with texts from the German Luther Bible. At this time he also wrote two volumes of Hungarian Dances, which were a great success. He also wrote his Waltzes for vocal quartet and four-hand piano. In this time he also wrote some of his greatest songs.
In the 1870’s, Brahms wrote more and more chamber music and felt ready to begin his first symphony. Because he had been compared with Beethoven, he felt compelled to make this symphony perfect, so it was a very tedious process. He soon after published the second symphony. Later one, he would write two more symphonies.
In 1879, by which time, his popularity had spread into Switzerland, the Netherlands, and to Poland, Brahms was given an honorary degree from the University of Breslau. In thanks, Brahms composed the Academic Festival Overture, which is based on some German student songs. In this period he also wrote his Violin Concerto in D major, and his second Piano Concerto in B-flat major. He remained in Vienna for the rest of his life, continuing to compose many great works.
In his final years, he continued dedicating himself to composition, particularly to music for the clarinet. After this, he felt his creativity had come to an end, although he was able to write Four Serious Songs, which came about as his dear friend, Clara Schumann’s, health was declining. They are about the vanity of life and welcoming death. She died in 1896, and it would not be long before Brahms too would pass on. He appeared in concert for the last time in March 1897, and the next month, on April 3, the great composer died of liver cancer. Upon his death, he was greatly honored by the musical world. Max Kalbeck published a multiple volume biographies about him in 1906, and about 20 years later, a collection of all of his work took up 26 volumes.
In contrast to the music of Wagner and Liszt, who were extremely progressive, Brahms stayed somewhat conservative, hoping to create music which would endure. Although he was greatly criticized for going against the tide, the generations to come would greatly appreciate his music, identifying the unique intensity and compositional mastery that characterizes so much of his work.
Some of his notable quotes:
Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.
„I would prefer to be inspired by a beautiful melody than to receive the order of Leopold.” This was an Austrian award given by the emperor in the early 19th century.
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