Johannes Brahms

"Brahms" redirects here. For other uses, see Brahms (disambiguation).
Johannes Brahms, c. 1885 (unknown photographer)

Johannes Brahms (German: [joˈhanəs ˈbʁaːms]; 7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. His reputation and status as a composer is such that he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

Brahms composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, and voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. He worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim (the three were close friends). Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished.

Brahms has been considered, by his contemporaries and by later writers, as both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Classical masters. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. Within his meticulous structures is embedded, however, a highly romantic nature.


Early years (1833-1850)

Photograph from 1891 of the building in Hamburg where Brahms was born.

Brahms's father, Johann Jakob Brahms (1806–72), was from the town of Heide in Holstein. The family name was also sometimes spelt 'Brahmst' or 'Brams', and derives from 'Bram', the German word for the shrub broom.[1] Johann Jakob, against the family's will, pursued a career in music, arriving in Hamburg in 1826, where he found work as a jobbing musician as a string and wind player. In 1830, he married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen (1789–1865), a seamstress 17 years older than he was. In the same year he was appointed as a horn player in the Hamburg militia.[2] Eventually he became a double-bass player in the Hamburg Stadttheater and the Hamburg Philharmonic Society. As Johann Jakob prospered, the family moved over the years to ever better accommodation in Hamburg.[3] Johannes Brahms was born in 1833; his sister Elisabeth (Elise) had been born in 1831 and a younger brother brother Fritz Friedrich (Fritz) was born in 1835.[4] Fritz also became a pianist; overshadowed by his brother he emigrated to Caracas in 1867, and later returned to Hamburg as a teacher.[5]

Johann Jakob gave his son his first musical training; Johannes also learnt to play the violin and the basics of playing the cello. From 1840 he studied piano with Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel (1813-1865). Cossel complained in 1842 that Brahms "could be such a good player, but he will not stop his never-ending composing." These early compositions were to include by 1845 a piano sonata in G minor. At the age of 10, Brahms made his debut as a performer in a private concert including Beethoven's quintet for piano and winds Op. 16 and a piano quartet by Mozart. He also played as a solo work an étude of Henri Herz. By 1845 he had written a piano sonata in G minor.[6] Brahms's parents disapproved of his early efforts as a composer, feeling that he had better career prospects as a performer.[7]

From 1845-1848 Brahms studied with Cossel's teacher the pianist and composer Eduard Marxsen (1806-1887). Marxsen had been a personal acquaintance of Beethoven and Schubert, admired the works of Mozart and Haydn, and was a devotee of the music of J. S. Bach. Marxsen conveyed to Brahms the tradition of these composers and ensured that Brahms's own compositions were grounded in that tradition.[8] In 1847 Brahms made his first public appearance as a solo pianist in Hamburg, playing a Fantasy of Sigismund Thalberg. His first full piano recital, in 1848, included a fugue by Bach as well as works by Marxsen and contemporary virtuosi such as Jacob Rosenhain. A second recital in April 1849 included Beethoven's Waldstein sonata and a waltz fantasia of his own composition, and garnered favourable newspaper reviews.[9]

Brahms's compositions at this period are known to have included piano music, chamber music and works for male voice choir. Under the pseudonym 'G.W. Marks' some piano arrangements and fantasies were published by the Hamburg firm of Cranz in 1849. The earliest of Brahms's works which he acknowledged (his 'Scherzo' Op.4 and the song HeimkehrOp. 7 no. 6) date from 1851. However Brahms was later assiduous in eliminating all his early works; even as late as 1880 he wrote to his friend Elise Giesemann to send him his manuscripts of choral music so that they could be destroyed.[10]

Lurid stories of the impoverished adolescent Brahms playing in bars and brothels have only anecdotal provenance, and modern scholars dismiss them; the Brahms family was relatively prosperous, and Hamburg legislation in any case very strictly forbade music in, or the admittance of minors to, brothels.[11][12]

Early career (1850-1862)

Brahms in 1853

In 1850 Brahms met with the Hungarian Jewish violinist Ede Reményi and accompanied him in a number of recitals over the next few years. This was Brahms's introduction to the music of 'gipsy-style' music such as the czardas, which was later to prove the foundation of his most lucrative and popular compositions, the two sets of Hungarian Dances (1869 and 1880).[13] 1850 also marked Brahms's first contact (albeit a failed one) with Robert Schumann; during Schumann's visit to Hamburg that year, friends persuaded Brahms to send the former some of his compositions, but the package was returned unopened.[14]

In 1853 Brahms went on a concert tour with Reményi. In late May the two visited the violinist and composer Joseph Joachim at Hanover. Brahms had earlier heard Joachim playing the solo part in Beethoven's violin concerto and been deeply impressed.[15] Brahms played some of his own solo piano pieces for Joachim, who fifty years later remembered "Never in the course of my artist's life have I been more completely overwhelmed".[16] This was the beginning of a friendship which was life-long, albeit temporarily derailed when Brahms took the part of Joachim's wife in their divorce proceedings of 1883.[17] Brahms also admired Joachim as a composer, and in 1856 they were to embark on a mutual training exercise to improve their skills in (in Brahms's words) "double counterpoint, canons, fugues, preludes or whatever".[18] Bozarth notes that "products of Brahms's study of counterpoint and early music" over the next few years included "dance pieces, preludes and fugues for organ, and neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque choral works."[19]

After meeting Joachim, Brahms and Reményi visited Weimar where Brahms met Franz Liszt, Peter Cornelius, and Joachim Raff, and where Liszt performed Brahms's Op. 4 Scherzo at sight. Reményi claimed that Brahms then slept during Liszt's performance of his own Sonata in B minor; this and other disagreements led to Reményi and Brahms parting company.[20]

Brahms visited Düsseldorf in October 1853, and, provided by a letter of introduction from Joachim[21] was welcomed by Schumann and his wife Clara. Schumann, greatly impressed and delighted by the 20-year-old's talent, published an article entitled "Neue Bahne" ("New Paths") in the 28 October issue of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik nominating Brahms as one who was "fated to give give expression to the times in the highest and most ideal manner."[22] This praise may have aggravated Brahms's self-critical standards of perfection and dented his confidence. He wrote to Schumann in November 1853 that his praise "will arouse such extraordinary expectations by the public that I don't know how I can begin to fulfil them."[23] While in Düsseldorf, Brahms participated with Schumann and Schumann's pupil Albert Dietrich in writing a movement each of a violin sonata for Joachim, the "F-A-E Sonata", the letters representing the initials of Joachim's personal motto "Frei aber einsam" ("Free but Alone").[24] Schumann's accolade led to the first publication of Brahms's works under his own name. Brahms went to Leipzig where Breitkopf and Härtel published his Opp. 1–4 (the Piano Sonatas nos. 1 and 2, the Six Songs Op. 3, and the Scherzo Op. 4), whilst Bartholf Senff published the Third Piano Sonata Op. 5 and the Six Songs Op. 6. In Leipzig he gave recitals including his own first two piano sonatas, and met with amongst others Ferdinand David, Ignaz Moscheles and Hector Berlioz.[19][25]

After Schumann's attempted suicide and subsequent confinement in a mental sanatorium near Bonn in February 1854 (where he was to die in 1856), Brahms based himself in Düsseldorf, where he supported the household and dealt with business matters on Clara's behalf. Clara was not allowed to visit Robert until two days before his death; Brahms was able to visit him and acted as a go-between. Brahms began to feel deeply for Clara, who to him represented an ideal of womanhood. Their intensely emotional relationship, which however seems never to have moved beyond close friendship, would last until Clara's death. In June 1854 Brahms dedicated to Clara his Op. 9, the Variations on a Theme of Schumann.[19] Clara continued to support Brahms's career by programming his music in her recitals.[26]

Following the publication of his Op. 10 Ballades for piano, Brahms published no further works until 1860. His major project of this period was the Piano Concerto in D minor, which he had begun as a work for two pianos in 1854 but soon realized needed a larger-scale format. Based in Hamburg for this period, he gained a position with Clara's support as musician to the tiny court of Detmold, the capital of the Principality of Lippe, where he spent the winters of 1857-1860 and for which he wrote his two Serenades (1858 and 1859, Opp. 11 and 16). In Hamburg he established a women's choir for which he wrote music and conducted. To this period also belong his first two Piano Quartets (Op. 25 and Op. 26) and the first movement of the third Piano Quartet, which eventually appeared in 1875.[19]

The end of the decade brought professional setbacks for Brahms. The premiere of the First Piano Concerto in Hamburg on 22 January 1859, with the composer as soloist, was poorly received. Brahms wrote to Joachim that the performance was "a brilliant and decisive - failure...[I]t forces one to concentrate one's thoughts and increases one's courage...But the hissing was too much of a good thing..."[27] At a second performance, audience reaction was so hostile that Brahms had to be restrained from leaving the stage after the first movement.[28] As a consequence of these reactions Breitkopf and Härtel declined to take on his new compositions; Brahms consequently established a relationship with other publishers, including with Simrock who eventually became his major publishing partner.[19] Brahms further made an intervention in 1860 in the debate on the future of German music which seriously misfired. He prepared together with Joachim and others an attack on Liszt's followers, the so-called "New German School" (although Brahms himself was sympathetic to the music of Richard Wagner, the School's leading light). In particular they objected to the rejection of traditional musical forms and to the "rank, miserable weeds growing from Liszt-like fantasias." A draft was leaked to the press, and the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik published a parody which ridiculed Brahms and his associates as backward-looking. Brahms never again ventured into public musical polemics.[29]

Brahms's personal life was also troubled. In 1859 he became engaged to Agathe von Siebold. The engagement was soon broken off, but even after this Brahms wrote to her: "I love you! I must see you again, but I am incapable of bearing fetters. Please write me ... whether ... I may come again to clasp you in my arms, to kiss you, and tell you that I love you." They never saw one another again, and Brahms later confirmed to a friend that Agathe was his "last love."[30]

Maturity (1862-1876)

Eduard Hanslick offering incense to Brahms; cartoon from the Viennese journal 'Figaro', 1890
Johann Strauss II (left) and Brahms, photographed in Vienna

Brahms had hoped to be given the conductorship of the Hamburg Philharmonic, but in 1862 this post was given to the baritone Julius Stockhausen. (Brahms continued to hope for the post; but when he was finally offered the directorship in 1893, he demurred as he had "got used to the idea of having to go along other paths".)[31] In autumn 1862 Brahms made his first visit to Vienna, staying there over the winter. There he became an associate of two close members of Wagner's circle, his earlier friend Peter Cornelius and Karl Tausig, and of Joseph Hellmesberger and Julius Epstein, respectively the Director and head of violin studies at the Vienna Conservatoire. Brahms's circle grew to include the notable critic (and opponent of the 'New German School') Eduard Hanslick, the conductor Hermann Levi and the surgeon Theodor Billroth, who were to become amongst his greatest advocates.[32][33]

In January 1863 came Brahms's first meeting with Richard Wagner, playing him his Handel Variations Op. 24, which he had completed the previous year. The meeting was cordial, although Wagner was in later years to make critical, and even insulting, comments on Brahms's music.[34] Brahms however retained at this time and later a keen interest in Wagner's music, helping with preparations for Wagner's Vienna concerts in 1862-3,[33] and being rewarded by Tausig with a manuscript of part of Wagner's Tannhäuser (which Wagner demanded back in 1875).[35] The Handel Variations also featured, together with the first Piano Quartet, in Brahms's first Viennese recitals, in which his performances were better-received by the public and critics than his music.[36]

Although Brahms entertained the idea of taking up conducting posts elsewhere, he based himself increasingly in Vienna and soon made it his home. In 1863, he was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie. He surprised his audiences by programming much work of the early German masters such as J. S. Bach and Heinrich Schütz and other early composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli; more recent music was represented by works of Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn. He also wrote works for the choir, including his Op. 29 "Motet". Finding however that the post encroached too much of the time he needed for composing, he left the choir in June 1864.[37]

In February 1865 Brahms's mother died, and he began to compose his large choral work A German Requiem Op. 45, of which six movements were completed by 1866. Premieres of the first three movements were given in Vienna, but the complete work was first given in Bremen in 1868 to great acclaim. A seventh movement (the soprano solo "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit") was added for the equally successful Leipzig premiere (February 1869), and the work went on to receive concert and critical acclaim throughout Germany and also in England, Switzerland and Russia, marking effectively Brahms's arrival on the world stage.[33] Brahms also experienced at this period popular success with works such as his first set of Hungarian Dances (1865), the Liebeslieder Walzer Op. 52 (1868-9), and his collections of lieder (Opp. 43 and 46-49).[33] Following such successes he finally completed a number of works that he had wrestled with over many years such as the cantata Rinaldo (1863-1868), his first two string quartets Op. 51 nos. 1 and 2 (1865-1873), the third piano quartet (1855-1875), and most notably his first symphony which appeared in 1876, but which had been begun as early as 1855.[38][39]

From 1872 to 1875, Brahms was director of the concerts of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. He ensured that the orchestra was staffed only by professionals, and conducted a repertoire which ran from Bach to the nineteenth century composers who were not of the 'New German School'; these included Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Joachim, Ferdinand Hiller, Max Bruch and himself (notably his large scale choral works, the German Requiem, the Alto Rhapsody Op. 53 and the patriotic Triumphlied Op. 55 which celebrated Prussia's victory in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War).[39]

Brahms was on the jury which awarded the Vienna State Prize to the composer Antonín Dvořák three times, first in February 1875, and later in 1876 and 1877. Brahms also successfully recommended Dvořák to his publisher, Simrock. The two men met for the first time in 1877, and Dvořák dedicated to Brahms his String Quartet, Op. 44 of that year.[40]

Later years and death

Brahms frequently travelled, both for business (concert tours) and pleasure. From 1878 onwards, he often visited Italy in the springtime and he usually sought out a pleasant rural location in which to compose during the summer. He was a great walker and especially enjoyed spending time in the open air, where he felt that he could think more clearly.

In 1889, Theo Wangemann, a representative of American inventor Thomas Edison, visited the composer in Vienna and invited him to make an experimental recording. Brahms played an abbreviated version of his first Hungarian dance and Die Libelle on the piano. The recording was later issued on an LP of early piano performances (compiled by Gregor Benko). Although the spoken introduction to the short piece of music is quite clear, the piano playing is largely inaudible due to heavy surface noise.[41] Nevertheless, this remains the earliest recording made by a major composer. Analysts and scholars remain divided, however, as to whether the voice that introduces the piece is that of Wangemann or of Brahms. Several attempts have been made to improve the quality of this historic recording; a "denoised" version was produced at Stanford University which claims to solve the mystery.[42]

In 1889, Brahms was named an honorary citizen of Hamburg, until 1948 the only one born in Hamburg.[43]

Brahms's grave in the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery), Vienna

In 1890, the 57-year-old Brahms resolved to give up composing. However, as it turned out, he was unable to abide by his decision, and in the years before his death he produced a number of acknowledged masterpieces. His admiration for Richard Mühlfeld, clarinetist with the Meiningen orchestra, moved him to compose the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 (1891), and the two Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120 (1894).

In November 1892 Brahms declined an invitation from Cambridge University to visit there and receive an honorary degree.[44] His first symphony, as yet unpublished, had had its English premiere, conducted by Joachim, in Cambridge 8 March 1877,[45] in Brahms's absence, possibly occasioned by aversion to seasickness. Brahms also wrote several cycles of piano pieces, Opp. 116–119 (the intermezzi, Op. 117, have sometimes been called "lullabies"),[46] the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121 (1896), and the Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122 (1896).

While completing the Op. 121 songs, Brahms developed cancer (sources differ on whether this was of the liver or pancreas). His last appearance in public was on 3 March 1897, when he saw Hans Richter conduct his Symphony No. 4. There was an ovation after each of the four movements. His condition gradually worsened and he died a month later, on 3 April 1897, aged 63. Brahms is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, under a monument by Victor Horta and the sculptor Ilse von Twardowski-Conrat.[47]


The British composer Hubert Parry, who considered Brahms the greatest artist of the time, wrote an orchestral Elegy for Brahms in 1897. This was never played in Parry's lifetime, receiving its first performance at a memorial concert for Parry himself in 1918.

From 1904 to 1914, Brahms's friend, the music critic Max Kalbeck published an eight-volume biography of Brahms, but this has never been translated into English. Between 1906 and 1922, the Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft (German Brahms Society) published 16 numbered volumes of Brahms's correspondence, at least 7 of which were edited by Kalbeck. An additional 7 volumes of Brahms's correspondence were published later, including two volumes with Clara Schumann, edited by Marie Schumann.[48]


Wiegenlied (Op. 49)

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Brahms plays his Hungarian Dance No. 1
Hungarian Dance No. 1
Recorded on 2 December 1889


See also: Lists of compositions by Brahms by genre and by opus number

Brahms wrote a number of major works for orchestra, including two serenades, four symphonies, two piano concertos (No. 1 in D minor; No. 2 in B-flat major), a Violin Concerto, a Double Concerto for violin and cello, and two companion orchestral overtures, the Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture.

His large choral work A German Requiem is not a setting of the liturgical Missa pro defunctis but a setting of texts which Brahms selected from the Luther Bible. The work was composed in three major periods of his life. An early version of the second movement was first composed in 1854, not long after Robert Schumann's attempted suicide, and this was later used in his first piano concerto. The majority of the Requiem was composed after his mother's death in 1865. The fifth movement was added after the official premiere in 1868, and the work was published in 1869.

Brahms's works in variation form include, among others, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel and the Paganini Variations, both for solo piano, and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn (now sometimes called the Saint Anthony Variations) in versions for two pianos and for orchestra. The final movement of the Fourth Symphony, Op. 98, is formally a passacaglia.

His chamber works include three string quartets, two string quintets, two string sextets, a clarinet quintet, a clarinet trio, a horn trio, a piano quintet, three piano quartets, and four piano trios (the fourth being published posthumously). He composed several instrumental sonatas with piano, including three for violin, two for cello, and two for clarinet (which were subsequently arranged for viola by the composer). His solo piano works range from his early piano sonatas and ballades to his late sets of character pieces. Brahms was a significant Lieder composer, who wrote over 200 of them. His chorale preludes for organ, Op. 122, which he wrote shortly before his death, have become an important part of the organ repertoire.

Brahms was an extreme perfectionist. He destroyed many early works – including a violin sonata he had performed with Reményi and violinist Ferdinand David – and once claimed to have destroyed 20 string quartets before he issued his official First in 1873. Over the course of several years, he changed an original project for a symphony in D minor into his first piano concerto. In another instance of devotion to detail, he laboured over the official First Symphony for almost fifteen years, from about 1861 to 1876. Even after its first few performances, Brahms destroyed the original slow movement and substituted another before the score was published. (A conjectural restoration of the original slow movement has been published by Robert Pascall.)

Another factor that contributed to Brahms's perfectionism was Schumann's early enthusiasm,[22] which Brahms was determined to live up to. Schumann's early approbation was a challenge to the composer's self-confidence, and may have contributed to the delay in producing the First Symphony.

Brahms strongly preferred writing absolute music that does not refer to an explicit scene or narrative, and he never wrote an opera or a symphonic poem.

Despite his reputation as a serious composer of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms's most widely known and most commercially successful compositions during his life were small-scale works of popular intent aimed at the thriving contemporary market for domestic music-making. During the 20th century, the influential American critic B. H. Haggin, rejecting more mainstream views, argued in his various guides to recorded music that Brahms was at his best in such works and much less successful in larger forms. Among the most cherished of these lighter works by Brahms are his sets of popular dances, the Hungarian Dances, the Waltzes for piano duet (Op. 39), and the Liebeslieder Waltzes for vocal quartet and piano, and some of his many songs, notably the Wiegenlied (Op. 49, No. 4, published in 1868). This last was written (to a folk text) to celebrate the birth of a son to Brahms's friend Bertha Faber and is universally known as Brahms's Lullaby.

Style and influences

Brahms maintained a classical sense of form and order in his works, in contrast to the opulence of the music of many of his contemporaries. Thus, many admirers (though not necessarily Brahms himself) saw him as the champion of traditional forms and "pure music", as opposed to the "New German" embrace of programme music.

Brahms venerated Beethoven; in the composer's home, a marble bust of Beethoven looked down on the spot where he composed, and some passages in his works are reminiscent of Beethoven's style. Brahms's First Symphony bears strongly the influence of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, as the two works are both in C minor and end in the struggle towards a C major triumph. The main theme of the finale of the First Symphony is also reminiscent of the main theme of the finale of Beethoven's Ninth, and when this resemblance was pointed out to Brahms he replied that any dunce[49] could see that. In 1876, when the work was premiered in Vienna, it was immediately hailed as "Beethoven's Tenth". However, the similarity of Brahms's music to that of late Beethoven had first been noted as early as November 1853 in a letter from Albert Dietrich to Ernst Naumann.[50][51]

Brahms was a master of counterpoint. "For Brahms, ... the most complicated forms of counterpoint were a natural means of expressing his emotions," writes Geiringer. "As Palestrina or Bach succeeded in giving spiritual significance to their technique, so Brahms could turn a canon in motu contrario or a canon per augmentationem into a pure piece of lyrical poetry."[52] Writers on Brahms have commented on his use of counterpoint. For example, of Op. 9, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Geiringer writes that Brahms "displays all the resources of contrapuntal art".[53] In the A Major piano quartet Opus 26, Swafford notes that the third movement is "demonic-canonic", echoing Haydn's famous minuet for string quartet called the 'Witch's Round'."[54] Swafford further opines that "thematic development, counterpoint, and form were the dominant technical terms in which Brahms... thought about music".[55]

A German Requiem was partially inspired by his mother's death in 1865 (at which time he composed a funeral march that was to become the basis of Part Two, Denn alles Fleisch), but it also incorporates material from a symphony which he started in 1854 but abandoned following Schumann's suicide attempt. He once wrote that the Requiem "belonged to Schumann". The first movement of this abandoned symphony was re-worked as the first movement of the First Piano Concerto.

Brahms loved the classical composers Mozart and Haydn. He collected first editions and autographs of their works and edited performing editions. He studied the music of pre-classical composers, including Giovanni Gabrieli, Johann Adolph Hasse, Heinrich Schütz, Domenico Scarlatti, George Frideric Handel, and, especially, Johann Sebastian Bach. His friends included leading musicologists, and, with Friedrich Chrysander, he edited an edition of the works of François Couperin. Brahms also edited works by C. P. E. Bach and W. F. Bach. He looked to older music for inspiration in the art of counterpoint; the themes of some of his works are modelled on Baroque sources such as Bach's The Art of Fugue in the fugal finale of Cello Sonata No. 1 or the same composer's Cantata No. 150 in the passacaglia theme of the Fourth Symphony's finale.

The early Romantic composers had a major influence on Brahms, particularly Schumann, who encouraged Brahms as a young composer. During his stay in Vienna in 1862–63, Brahms became particularly interested in the music of Franz Schubert.[56] The latter's influence may be identified in works by Brahms dating from the period, such as the two piano quartets Op. 25 and Op. 26, and the Piano Quintet which alludes to Schubert's String Quintet and Grand Duo for piano four hands.[56][57] The influence of Chopin and Mendelssohn on Brahms is less obvious, although occasionally one can find in his works what seems to be an allusion to one of theirs (for example, Brahms's Scherzo, Op. 4, alludes to Chopin's Scherzo in B-flat minor;[58] the scherzo movement in Brahms's Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5, alludes to the finale of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in C minor).[59]

Brahms considered giving up composition when it seemed that other composers' innovations in extended tonality would result in the rule of tonality being broken altogether. Although Wagner became fiercely critical of Brahms as the latter grew in stature and popularity, he was enthusiastically receptive of the early Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel; Brahms himself, according to many sources,[60] deeply admired Wagner's music, confining his ambivalence only to the dramaturgical precepts of Wagner's theory.

Brahms wrote settings for piano and voice of 144 German folk songs, and many of his lieder reflect folk themes or depict scenes of rural life. His Hungarian Dances were among his most profitable compositions.


Brahms' point of view looked both backward and forward; his output was often bold in its exploration of harmony and rhythm. As a result, he was an influence on composers of both conservative and modernist tendencies. Within his lifetime, his idiom left an imprint on several composers within his personal circle, who strongly admired his music, such as Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Robert Fuchs, and Julius Röntgen, as well as on Gustav Jenner, who was Brahms's only formal composition pupil. Antonín Dvořák, who received substantial assistance from Brahms, deeply admired his music and was influenced by it in several works, such as the Symphony No. 7 in D minor and the F minor Piano Trio. Features of the "Brahms style" were absorbed in a more complex synthesis with other contemporary (chiefly Wagnerian) trends by Hans Rott, Wilhelm Berger, Max Reger and Franz Schmidt, whereas the British composers Hubert Parry and Edward Elgar and the Swede Wilhelm Stenhammar all testified to learning much from Brahms's example. As Elgar said, "I look at the Third Symphony of Brahms, and I feel like a pygmy."[61]

Ferruccio Busoni's early music shows much Brahmsian influence, and Brahms took an interest in him, though Busoni later tended to disparage Brahms. Towards the end of his life, Brahms offered substantial encouragement to Ernő Dohnányi and to Alexander von Zemlinsky. Their early chamber works (and those of Béla Bartók, who was friendly with Dohnányi) show a thoroughgoing absorption of the Brahmsian idiom. Zemlinsky, moreover, was in turn the teacher of Arnold Schoenberg, and Brahms was apparently impressed by drafts of two movements of Schoenberg's early Quartet in D major which Zemlinsky showed him in 1897. In 1933, Schoenberg wrote an essay "Brahms the Progressive" (re-written 1947), which drew attention to Brahms's fondness for motivic saturation and irregularities of rhythm and phrase; in his last book (Structural Functions of Harmony, 1948), he analysed Brahms's "enriched harmony" and exploration of remote tonal regions. These efforts paved the way for a re-evaluation of Brahms's reputation in the 20th century. Schoenberg went so far as to orchestrate one of Brahms's piano quartets. Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern, in his 1933 lectures, posthumously published under the title The Path to the New Music, claimed Brahms as one who had anticipated the developments of the Second Viennese School, and Webern's own Op. 1, an orchestral passacaglia, is clearly in part a homage to, and development of, the variation techniques of the passacaglia-finale of Brahms's Fourth Symphony.

Brahms was honoured in the German hall of fame, the Walhalla memorial. On 14 September 2000, he was introduced there as the 126th "rühmlich ausgezeichneter Teutscher" and 13th composer among them, with a bust by sculptor Milan Knobloch.[62]


Brahms was fond of nature and often went walking in the woods around Vienna. He often brought penny candy with him to hand out to children. To adults Brahms was often brusque and sarcastic, and he often alienated other people. His pupil Gustav Jenner wrote, "Brahms has acquired, not without reason, the reputation for being a grump, even though few could also be as lovable as he."[63] He also had predictable habits, which were noted by the Viennese press, such as his daily visit to his favourite "Red Hedgehog" tavern in Vienna, and his habit of walking with his hands firmly behind his back, which led to a caricature of him in this pose walking alongside a red hedgehog. Those who remained his friends were very loyal to him, however, and he reciprocated with equal loyalty and generosity.

Brahms had amassed a small fortune in the second half of his career, when his works sold widely, but despite his wealth, he lived very simply, with a modest apartment, a mess of music papers and books, and a single housekeeper who cleaned and cooked for him. He was often the butt of jokes for his long beard, his cheap clothes and often not wearing socks. Brahms gave away large sums of money to friends and to aid various musical students, often with the term of strict secrecy. Brahms' domicile was hit during World War II, destroying his piano and other possessions that were still kept there for posterity by the Viennese.[64]

Religious beliefs

Brahms' personal views tended to be humanistic and skeptical, though one of his influences was undoubtedly the Bible as rendered in German by Martin Luther. His Requiem employs biblical texts primarily to speak words of comfort to the bereaved, yet it also cites Hebrews 13:14 ("here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come") and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 ("the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed"). Composer Walter Niemann declared "The fact that Brahms began his creative activity with the German folk song and closed with the Bible reveals... the true religious creed of this great man of the people." Some present-day biographers and critics view Brahms's appreciation of Lutheran tradition more as cultural than existential.[65] When asked by conductor Karl Reinthaler to add additional sectarian text to his German Requiem, Brahms is reported to have responded, "As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with passages like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors I can't delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much."[66]

On his religious views, Brahms has been described as an agnostic and a humanist.[67][68] The devout Catholic Antonín Dvořák wrote in a letter: "Such a man, such a fine soul—and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!"[69] Brahms's final vocal and instrumental works, dating from 1896, are, respectively, Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), for voice and piano, Op. 121, settings of biblical texts;[70] and Eleven Chorale Preludes, for organ, Op. 122, based upon nine Lutheran chorales.[71]



  1. Swafford (1999), p. 7.
  2. Hofmann (1999), pp. 3-4.
  3. Hofmann (1999), pp. 4-8.
  4. Swafford (1999), pp. 14-16.
  5. Musgrave (2000), p. 13.
  6. Hofmann (1999), pp. 9-11.
  7. Hofmann (1999), p. 12.
  8. Swafford (1999), p. 26.
  9. Hofmann (1999), pp. 17-18.
  10. Hofmann (1999), p.16, pp. 18-20.
  11. Swafford (2001), passim.
  12. Hofmann (1999) pp. 12-14.
  13. Swafford (1999), p. 56, p. 62; Musgrave (1999b), p. 45.
  14. Swafford (1999), pp. 56-7.
  15. Swafford (1999), p. 49.
  16. Swafford (1999), p. 64.
  17. Swafford (1999), pp. 494-495.
  18. Musgrave (2000), p. 67.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 Bozarth (n.d.), §2: "New Paths".
  20. Swafford (1999), p. 67, p. 71
  21. Gál (1963), p. 7
  22. 1 2 Schumann (1988), p. 199-200.
  23. Avins (1997), p. 24
  24. Swafford (1999), pp. 81-82.
  25. Swafford (1999), p. 89
  26. Swafford (1999), p. 180, p. 182.
  27. Swafford (1997), pp. 189–190.
  28. Swafford (1997), p.211.
  29. Swafford (1997), pp. 206–211.
  30. Musgrave (2000), pp. 52-53.
  31. .Musgrave (2000), pp. 27, 31.
  32. Musgrave (1999b), pp. 39-41.
  33. 1 2 3 4 Bozarth (n.d.), §3 "First maturity"
  34. Swafford (1999), pp. 265-269.
  35. Swafford (1999), p. 401.
  36. Musgrave (1999b), p. 39.
  37. Swafford (1999), pp.277-279, 283.
  38. Becker (1980), pp. 174-179.
  39. 1 2 Bozarth (n.d.). §4, "At the summit"
  40. Swafford (1999), pp. 444-446
  41. J. Brahms plays excerpt of Hungarian Dance No. 1 (2:10) on YouTube
  42. "Brahms at the Piano" by Jonathan Berger (CCRMA, Stanford University)
  43. Stadt Hamburg Ehrenbürger (German) Retrieved 17 June 2008
  44. Frisch and Karnes, p. xxx
  45. Frisch and Karnes, p. 443
  46. Hyperion Records. Retrieved 19 May 2016
  47. Zentralfriedhof group 32a, details
  48. "Johannes Brahms – Wikisource", (in German). There are two volumes of correspondence with Joachim, and four volumes with Brahms's main publisher, Simrock
  49. Brahms used the German word "Esel", of which one translation is "donkey" and another is "dunce": Cassell's New German Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls, New York and London, 1915
  50. Constantin Floros, Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch, Johannes Brahms, Free But Alone: A Life for a Poetic Music
  51. Albert Dietrich, J V Widman, Dora Hecht, Recollections of Johannes Brahms
  52. Geiringer (1981), p. 159
  53. Geiringer, p. 210.
  54. Swafford (2012), p. 159.
  55. Swafford (2012), p. xviii
  56. 1 2 James Webster, "Schubert's sonata form and Brahms's first maturity (II)", 19th-Century Music 3(1) (1979), pp. 52–71.
  57. Donald Francis Tovey, "Franz Schubert" (1927), rpt. in Essays and Lectures on Music (London, 1949), p. 123. Cf. his similar remarks in "Tonality in Schubert" (1928), rpt. ibid., p. 151.
  58. Charles Rosen, "Influence: plagiarism and inspiration", 19th-Century Music 4(2) (1980), pp. 87–100.
  59. H. V. Spanner, "What is originality?", The Musical Times 93(1313) (1952), pp. 310–311.
  60. Swafford (1999)
  61. MacDonald, Brahms (1990), p. 406.
  62. "Johannes Brahms hält Einzug in die Walhalla". Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst. 14 September 2000. Retrieved 23 April 2008.
  63. 6 Nov 2008 1:30 pm by Kelly Wilson (6 November 2008). "Brahms as Man, Teacher, and Artist". Retrieved 12 February 2010.
  64. Richard A. Leonard, abridged from The Stream of Music; Doubleday & Co., 1943
  65. Beller-McKenna, Daniel. Brahms and the German Spirit. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2004, ISBN 0-674-01318-2.
  66. Musgrave, Michael (1996). Brahms: A German Requiem. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521409957.
  67. Swafford, 2012, p. 327: "He continued, in high theological mode. Brahms was not about to put up with that sort of thing. He was a humanist and an agnostic, and his Requiem was going to express that, Reinthaler or no."
  68. Sams, Eric (2000). The Songs of Johannes Brahms. Yale University Press. p. 326. ISBN 9780300079623. But the thought of bright nearness brings back the face-to-face music of 'Von Angesicht zu Angesichte', which is as close as the agnostic Brahms ever came to a communion with deity. As the pious aria ends, the humanist moral returns.
  69. Swafford, 1997
  70. Palmer, John (2012). "Vier ernste Gesänge (4), for voice & piano (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121". Allmusic. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  71. Bond, Ann. "Brahms Chorale Preludes, Op. 122". The Musical Times, Vol. 112, no. 1543, pp. 898–900. September 1971.


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