Johannes Brahms

Biography

Born: 1833   Died: 1897   Country: Germany   Period: Romantic
The stature of Johannes Brahms among classical composers is well illustrated by his inclusion among the "Three Bs" triumvirate of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Of all the major composers of the late Romantic era, Brahms was the one most attached to the Classical ideal as manifested in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and especially Beethoven; indeed, Hans von Bülow once characterized Brahms' Symphony No. 1 (1855-1876) as "Beethoven's Tenth." As a Read more youth, Brahms was championed by Robert Schumann as music's greatest hope for the future; as a mature composer, Brahms became for conservative musical journalists the most potent symbol of musical tradition, a stalwart against the "degeneration" represented by the music of Wagner and his school. Brahms' symphonies, choral and vocal works, chamber music, and piano pieces are imbued with strong emotional feeling, yet take shape according to a thoroughly considered structural plan.

The son of a double bassist in the Hamburg Philharmonic Society, Brahms demonstrated great promise from the beginning. He began his musical career as a pianist, contributing to the family coffers as a teenager by playing in restaurants, taverns, and even brothels. Though by his early twenties he enjoyed associations with luminaries like violinists Eduard Reményi and Joseph Joachim, the friend and mentor who was most instrumental in advancing his career was Schumann, who all but adopted him and became his most ardent partisan, and their esteem was mutual. Following Schumann's death in 1856, Brahms became the closest confidant and lifelong friend of the composer's widow, pianist and composer Clara Wieck Schumann. After a life of spectacular musical triumphs and failed loves (the composer was involved in several romantic entanglements but never wed), Brahms died of liver cancer on April 3, 1897.

In every genre in which he composed, Brahms produced works that have become staples of the repertory. His most ambitious work, the German Requiem (1863-1867), is the composer's singular reinterpretation of an age-old form. The four symphonies -- lushly scored, grand in scope, and deeply expressive -- are cornerstones of the symphonic literature. Brahms' concertos are, similarly, in a monumental, quasi-symphonic vein: the two piano concertos (1856-1859 and 1881) and the Violin Concerto (1878) call for soloists with both considerable technical skill and stamina. His chamber music is among the most sophisticated and exquisitely crafted of the Romantic era; for but a single example, his works that incorporate the clarinet (e.g., the Trio in A minor, Op. 114 and the two Sonatas, Op. 120), an instrument largely overlooked by his contemporaries, remain unsurpassed. Though the piano sonata never held for Brahms the same appeal it had for Beethoven (Brahms wrote three to Beethoven's 32), he produced a voluminous body of music for the piano. He showed a particular affinity for variations -- notably, on themes of Schumann (1854), Handel (1861), and Paganini (1862-1863) -- and likewise produced a passel of national dances and character pieces such as ballades, intermezzi, and rhapsodies. Collectively, these constitute one of the essential bodies of work in the realm of nineteenth century keyboard music. Read less
Martin Frost Plays Brahms
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 2063   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Symphony No 8; Brahms: Symphony No 3 / Davis
Release Date: 04/26/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 8043   Number of Discs: 1
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Brahms Beloved II / John Axelrod
Release Date: 07/22/2014   Label: Telarc  
Catalog: 34659   Number of Discs: 2
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Dvorák: Requiem;  Brahms / Mertens, Hagel, Et Al
Release Date: 10/31/2006   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 6050   Number of Discs: 2
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Wilhelm Backhaus Live In Vienna - Brahms: Piano Concertos; Haydn
Release Date: 11/15/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 11051   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Hungarian Dances (21) for Orchestra, WoO 1

 

About This Work
Brahms originally published his Hungarian Dances as two batches of piano duets in 1869 (numbers 1-10) and 1880 (the remainder). They were quite successful at the time, but they've become best known in their later orchestral guises. Just how firmly Read more Brahms' name can be attached to this music is a matter of some small argument. Brahms himself dressed only numbers 1, 3, and 10 in orchestral garb, and he refused to take credit for the melodies in the keyboard versions; he referred to them merely as arrangements. Yet the resulting dances are fairly far removed from their original Magyar folk and Gypsy forms -- Brahms didn't quite understand the difference between the two -- and tend to be more elegant and well crafted than the more commercial café-style music that most strongly influenced Brahms here. Numbers 11, 14, and 16 seem to be wholly original pieces.

Almost all the pieces depend on sudden contrasts between restraint and explosive energy, but the two original groups of pieces (actually, each group consists of two sets of dances) have rather distinct characters. The first ten dances are, in general, the more lively, while the final 11 tend to emphasize the melancholy aspects of Hungarian music.

The three dances Brahms orchestrated are, like the composer's other works, reluctant to indulge in splashy effects. The five orchestrated by Antonin Dvorák -- numbers 17 through 21 -- though lying in the "melancholy" half of the dances, share the instrumental exuberance of the Czech composer's Slavonic Dances, especially the way Dvorák often sends the violins into their high register.

Bandmaster Albert Parlow orchestrated numbers 11 through 16; these versions depend on a lush but not heavy string sound, with woodwinds and brass used for accents with a Brahmsian restraint. The remainder fell to several different hands. Martin Schmeling orchestrated numbers 5 -- the most popular of all -- through 7, making more liberal use of triangle and cymbals than the other orchestrators. Hans Gál, remembered for his editions of Brahms' piano scores, orchestrated numbers 8 and 9 with a good ear for woodwinds. The series is completed by Swedish conductor Johan Andreas Hallén's treatment of the second dance, and Russo-German composer Paul Juon's orchestration of the fourth.

-- James Reel, All Music Guide Read less

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