Johannes Brahms


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: Song of Destiny / Martin, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Gavle Symphony
Release Date: 11/10/2017   Label: Ondine  
Catalog: 1301   Number of Discs: 1
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Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann & Brahms / Fischer
Release Date: 02/22/2011   Label: Orfeo  
Catalog: 823104   Number of Discs: 4
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Brahms: The Violin Sonatas / Tetzlaff, Vogt
Release Date: 08/12/2016   Label: Ondine  
Catalog: 1284   Number of Discs: 1
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Brahms: Liebeslieder / Klava, Latvian Radio Choir
Release Date: 06/09/2017   Label: Ondine  
Catalog: 1295   Number of Discs: 1
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Brahms: Lieder / Bumbry, Glass
Release Date: 01/05/2018   Label: Orfeo  
Catalog: 941171   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Wiegenlied (Lullaby)


About This Work
Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Magic Horn of Youth), an anthology of German folk poetry put together during the first decade of the nineteenth century, was, famously, one of Gustav Mahler's favorite text sources; it might come as a shock to some to learn Read more that probably the world's most famous lullaby, Johannes Brahms' Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4, of 1868, takes its text, or half of it anyway, from that same imposing volume. This is a Lied that really needs no introduction. Few indeed are those who will not immediately recognize its tune (though recognizing its composer may well be another matter), who have not either sung it to a child or had it sung to them as a child, who have not run across one of the thousands upon thousands of music-boxes that play the song's melody when opened. The only other lullaby that can compare in international fame is Schubert's Wiegenlied, D. 498.

The first stanza of the Brahms Wiegenlied's text is, as mentioned, drawn from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The second was written to match the first by Georg Scherer in 1849. Brahms sets each of these six-line stanzas to the same music. How wonderful and, for all the times we've heard it, still remarkable is the way that the melody's gentle upward groping -- suggesting a child looking up out of the cradle -- is expanded to a full octave at the end of each musical strophe! The touch, seemingly inevitable, is masterful. Read less

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