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Johannes Brahms

(1833 - 1897)

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897.

The violinist Joseph Joachim introduced him to many leading musicians of the day including Schumann who hailed him as a genius.

After Schumann's death, Brahms maintained a long friendship with his widow, the pianist Clara Schumann, whose advice he always valued.

He moved to Vienna in 1863 where he earned his living as a conductor and teacher. Brahms was one of the greatest 19th century composer after Beethoven and he was regarded as the foremost romantic composer of instrumental music in classical forms.

He contributed masterpieces to almost every genre.

His music was the object of bitter attacks by the followers of Wagner and Liszt.

Brahms was a gruff humorous man tolerated by those who valued his genius.

He never married and never left Europe.

In 1897 Brahms died from cancer, aged 63, and was buried in Vienna.

Brahms wrote four symphonies, massive in structure, and all the result of long periods of work and revision.

The two early Serenades have their own particular charm, while the Variations on a Theme by Haydn enjoy enormous popularity, examples of a form in which Brahms had complete mastery.

Two overtures, the "Academic Festival Overture" and the "Tragic Overture", with a arrangements of his "Hungarian Dances", complete the body of orchestral music without a solo instrument.

His concertos consist of two magnificent and demanding Piano Concertos, a Violin Concerto and a splendid Double Concerto for violin and cello.

He also wrote some 200 solo songs, vocal duets and quartets and several choral pieces, contributing greatly to the repertoire of German Lied (art song).

The "Liebeslieder Waltzes", Op. 52, for vocal quartet and piano duet, are particularly delightful, while the solo songs include the moving Four Serious Songs, Op.121, reflecting preoccupations as his life drew to a close. "Wiegenlied" ("Cradle Song"), is one of a group of five Songs, Op. 49; the charming "Vergebliches Staendchen" ("Vain Serenade") appears in a later set of 5 Romances and Songs, Op. 84, and there are two particularly wonderful songs for contralto, viola and piano, "Gestillte Sehnsucht" ("Tranquil Yearning") and the "Christmas Geistliches Wiegenlied" ("Spiritual Cradle-Song"), based on the carol "Josef, lieber Josef mein", Op. 91 ("Joseph dearest, Joseph mine").

Major choral works by Brahms include the monumental "German Requiem", Op. 45, a setting of biblical texts, the "Alto Rhapsody", Op. 53, with a text derived from Goethe, and the "Schicksalslied" ("Song of Destiny"), Op. 54, a setting of Hoelderlin.

Some two dozen pieces of chamber music are smaller in scale but no less masterly.

For violin and piano there are three sonatas, Opp. 78, 100 and 108, with a separate Scherzo movement for a collaborative sonata he wrote with Schumann and Dietrich for their friend Joachim.

For cello and piano he wrote two fine sonatas, Opp. 38 and 99.

There are two late sonatas, written in 1894, for clarinet or viola and piano, Op. 120, each version deserving attention, with a Trio for clarinet, cello and piano, Op. 114 and a Quintet for clarinet and string quartet, Op. 115, written 3 years earlier.

In addition to this there are the three Piano Trios, Opp. 8, 87 and 101, the Trio for violin, horn and piano, Op. 40, three Piano Quartets, Opp. 25, 26 and 60, a Piano Quintet, Op. 34 and three String Quartets, Opp.51 and 67. Two String Sextets, Opp. 18 and 36, and two String Quintets, Opp. 88 and 111.

Brahms showed a particular talent for the composition of variations, and this is aptly demonstrated in the famous Variations on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24, with which he first made his name in Vienna, and the "Paganini Variations", Op. 35, based on the theme of the great violinist's Caprice n. 24.

Other sets of variations show similar skill, if not the depth and variety of these masterpieces. 



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