Biographical Sketch of Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms was born May 7, 1833, in Hamburg Germany, the son of Johann Jakob and Christina Nissen Brahms. Brahms fathers an innkeeper and an impoverished horn and double bass player, a musician of moderate ability at best; his mother was a skilled seamstress. Brahms’ parents married in 1830, his father was 24 and his mother was 41. His father taught Brahms to play violin and piano.

When Brahms was six years old he created his own method of composing music in order to get the melodies he created on paper. At the age of seven he began studying piano under Otto Cossel, who three years later passed him to his own teacher, Eduard Marxsen. Brahms played a private concert at the age of ten in order to raise funds for his future education. Between the ages 14 and 16 Brahms raised money to assist his family by giving music lessons and playing in tough inns on the docks of Hamburg and at the same time composing and sometimes giving recitals.

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Earlier in his career in 1848, Brahms became familiar with the mixing of the Hungarian and Gypsy style of music, known as hongrios; later apparent in his Hungarian dances. In 1852 Brahms, was inspired by a genuine Minnelied” poem by Count Kraft von Toggenburg, wrote the F sharp Piano Sonata op. 2. Brahms, along with his friend Remenyi (Eduard Hoffmann), toured northern Germany from April to June in 1853. While touring he met Joseph Joachim, who would become his lifelong friend. Brahms would also meet Liszt and other prominent musicians.

After their tour, Brahms went back to Gottingen to stay with Joseph; he would encourage Brahms to seek out other prominent musicians, especially the Schumann’s. While on his tour he managed to get introduced to the great composer Robert Schumann, and his wife Clara Schumann, an immensely talented pianist. Brahms idolized them, and they were very fond of him. Robert Schumann was so awed with Brahms talents that he wrote a radiant article about the young musician. The public began to notice Brahms because of this, and started to demand him to play piano in Hamburg.

In 1854 Brahms would accept a position as Director of Court Concerts and Choral Society for the Prince of Lippe-Detmold. And his good friend Robert Schumann would die after spending some time in an asylum after trying to commit suicide by jumping into the Rhine River. Brahms helped Clara Schumann in running her family. It appears he may have fallen in love with her; but, though they remained deep friends after Robert Schumann’s death in 1856, their relationship did not go further.

Brahms would maintain his close relationship with Clara Schumann until her death about one year before Brahms. The closest Brahms came to marriage was in his affair with Agathe von Siebold in 1858; which ended abruptly, and he was never seriously involved in the prospect of love again. Between 1857 and 1860 Brahms moved between the court of Detmold, where he taught piano and conducted a choral society, while in 1859 he was selected as conductor of a women’s choir in Hamburg. Such positions would be an important and sensible experience that would leave him enough time for his own work.

Here Brahms’s productivity improved and apart from the two astonishing Serenades for orchestra and String Sextet in B-flat Major, he would also complete his chaotic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor. In 1861 Brahms would go back in Hamburg, and the following year he would make his first visit to Vienna, with moderate success. After being pasted over for a post of conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic concerts, he would settle in Vienna in 1863, taking the direction of the Singakademie, a fine choral society. His life seemed to level out and the rockiness seemed to be behind him now his life seemed to be regular and quiet.

He would have altercations occasioned by his temper and being very vocal and would often be in the middle of powerful rivalries between his supporters and those of Wagner and Anton Bruckner, and by one or two inconclusive love affairs. His music was now recognized after a few failures and constant attacks by the Wagnerites, his status grew progressively. By 1872 he was the chief conductor of the Society of Friends of Music, and for three consecutive seasons he directed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. His choice of music was not traditional as many might have projected, and though the “Brahmins” continued their hostilities against Wagner.

Brahms would always speak of his rival with respect. Brahms was sometimes portrayed as insensitive toward his colleagues. He had kindness for Antonin Dvoak that was always acknowledged, however his support even of such a composer as the young Gustav Mahler is not always realized, and his eagerness for Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony is not generally known. By the mid 1870s Brahms was composing chamber pieces with great expression. In 1873 he made available orchestral version of his Variations on a Theme by Haydn. In 1877 he produced his Symphony No. 2 in D Major.

This was a quiet and peaceful work, unlike the heroic pity of Symphony No. 1. He would not compose any more pieces for six years, before he would compose Symphony No. 3 in F Major in 1883. After only one year, Brahms’s last symphony, No. 4 in E Minor was begun. This piece may have been motivated by the ancient Greek tragedies of Sophocles, which at the time Brahms had been reading about at the time. The symphony’s most important movement is once more the finale. In 1891 Brahms would write chamber music for the clarinet owing to his associate with an outstanding clarinetist, Richard Muhlfeld.

With Muhlfeld in mind, Brahms wrote his Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano 1891; the great Quintet for Clarinet and Strings 1891; and two Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano 1894. In 1896 Brahms completed his Vier ernste Gesange ( Four Serious Songs), for bass voice and piano, on texts from both the New Testament and Hebrew Bible, a pessimistic work showing the vanity of all earthly things and welcoming death as the healer of pain and weariness. The conception of this work arose from Brahms’s thoughts of Clara Schumann, whose physical condition had grimly deteriorated.

On May 20, 1896, Clara died, and soon afterward Brahms himself was forced to seek medical treatment, where his liver was discovered to be seriously diseased. He appeared for the last time at a concert in March 1897, and in Vienna, in April 1897, he died of cancer.

Works Cited

  1. Green, Aaron. Brhamns Biography.
  2. August 2001 <http://www. johannesbrahms. org/JBbio. htm
  3. Johannes Brahms Biography. August 2001 <http://www. notablebiographies. com/Be-Br/Brahms-Johannes. html
  4. May, Florence. “The Life of Johannes Brahms. Revised, Second edition. (Volume 1). ” Travis and Emery Music Bookshop, 1977.

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