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
Arthur Rubinstein Plays Brahms
Release Date: 06/12/2012   Label: Rca  
Catalog: 760992   Number of Discs: 9
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Leon Fleisher Plays Beethoven & Brahms
Release Date: 08/07/2012   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 1918052   Number of Discs: 5
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Brahms: Complete Piano Trios, Clarinet Trio, Horn Trio
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 22082   Number of Discs: 2
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Brahms: Symphonies, Concertos / Pollini, Batiashvili, Thielemann
Release Date: 09/16/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002133400   Number of Discs: 4
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Brahms: Viola Sonatas
Release Date: 02/11/2014   Label: Msr  
Catalog: 1479   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77

 

About This Work
Brahms composed this music during the summer of 1878, and led the first performance, with its dedicatee Joseph Joachim as soloist, in Leipzig on January 1, 1879.

In the 1860s, Brahms toured as Joachim's pianist. Despite the kilometers
Read more separating them otherwise -- the violinist lived in Berlin, while Brahms settled permanently in Vienna after 1867 -- their mutual regard as well as affection flourished. Until 1881, that is, when "Jussuf," a pathologically jealous husband, accused his wife of adultery, naming his and Brahms' publisher, Fritz Simrock, as correspondent. Knowing Joachim's mania, Brahms consoled the lady privately in a letter that she made public during divorce proceedings -- one that the judge agreed with publicly, adding injury to insult in the fiddler's mind. For the next six years there was silence between them. Brahms, atypically, broke the ice by writing his "Double" Concerto in 1887 for Joachim and a cellist of choice -- the composer's last work for orchestra, although he lived a decade longer. Even so, Joachim was never as close as in 1878, when Brahms put aside sketches for a new piano concerto (the B flat, Op. 83, finished later) to make one for him instead.

A summer composer, he wrote the music in Pörtschach, a small resort community on the Wörther-see in south-central Austria that he found both charming and congenial (until "lady admirers" annoyed him beyond tolerance in 1879). Brahms created a large work, in the Beethoven tradition, though he gave up the idea of two movements in the middle; in their place he put an F major Adagio, with a seraphic oboe solo but a stormier central section in F sharp minor before calm returns.

The opening movement, marked not too fast, has a sonorous orchestral introduction in 3/4 time amounting to a first exposition of the main theme. When the violin enters, it is with an extended display over horns in octaves and a timpani roll before playing the main theme and a "secondary" group, from which one melody is outright gorgeous. Brahms begins his development section in A minor; a cadenza that Joachim contributed comes after the recapitulation.

Next comes the filigreed Adagio already discussed, then a rondo-finale with a "Hungarian" main theme (marked joyous but not too lively). Most agree that Brahms was saluting Joachim's origin; he was born near Pressburg, later called Poszony -- today Bratislava in the Czech Republic. The music teems with challenges yet never becomes the circus-piece that so many nineteenth century fiddle concertos were.

-- Roger Dettmer, All Music Guide Read less

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