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
Brahms: Clarinet Trio, Cello Sonatas / Collins, Watkins
Release Date: 07/29/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10825   Number of Discs: 1
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Karajan 1947-1958: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms - Choral Music
Release Date: 05/13/2014   Label: Warner Classics  
Catalog: 633629   Number of Discs: 5
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Brahms, Schoenberg, Beethoven / Fujimura, Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Release Date: 05/27/2014   Label: Accentus  
Catalog: 20282   Number of Discs: 1
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Brahms: Viola Sonatas / Sparf, Westenholtz
Release Date: 03/25/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 213   Number of Discs: 1
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Leonid Kogan Vol 1 - Brahms: Violin Concerto;  Mozart: Violin Concerto No 3
Release Date: 04/08/2008   Label: Doremi Records  
Catalog: 7900   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: German Requiem, Op. 45

 

About This Work
Johannes Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem (1863-1867) is not a setting of the German translation of the standard Requiem text. Rather, Brahms set a selection of Bible verses in German, treating death and its repercussions, and emphasizing consolation Read more over religious observance. He avoided explicitly Christian references, at one time even suggesting that the work be called the "Human Requiem." The German Requiem took shape gradually, undergoing a number of revisions and additions in the course of its creation. First performed in a six-movement version in 1868, the work had its emotional roots in the death of the composer's mother three years earlier. The maternal spirit of much of the text, with its words of consolation that speak more of memory of the dead than return of the dead is a direct allusion his mother's death in 1865, and a reflection of Brahms' disillusionment with dogmatic religion. As a counter to this, there is a more paternal element in the second, third, and sixth movements, which invoke the inevitability of death and its eventual defeat. In spite of its evolving over a period of 11 years, there is a unity of style, mood, and form that is surprising in a work not planned as a unit from the beginning. There are some disparities in balance and scoring, however, the breadth, power, and sheer beauty of the work surely rank it among the great masterpieces of choral-orchestral music.

The first person to see the "finished" score was the other important woman in Brahms' life, Clara Schuman, who wrote to him, "I am completely filled with your Requiem, it...takes hold of a person's whole being like very little else." In 1869, Brahms inserted a new movement as the fifth of the work's seven, and in this, its present form, the Requiem was presented at the inaugural concert at Leipzig's Gewandhaus concert hall. Over the next decade the work was performed more than one hundred times in German-speaking countries alone. The Requiem, which predated all of the composer's symphonies, was the first large-scale orchestral piece for which Brahms gained universal acclaim; its radiant warmth has made it a perennial audience favorite.

Recent intepretations of the German Requiem seem to be evolving from a tradition of automatic application of the formula "slow = reverent" into a newer approach that observes Brahms' often faster, more flowing tempos. Choirs with the desire to perform the Requiem but lack the resource of an orchestra may wish to investigate Brahms' own arrangement of the accompaniment for piano, four hands.

-- All Music Guide Read less

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