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 Search Beat > Arts > Music > Styles > Classical Music > Featured Composer > Johannes Brahms


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Johannes Brahms (born May 7 1833, died April 3 1897) was a German composer of classical music. He was seen by many as the natural successor to Ludwig van Beethoven. Today he is widely seen as one of the great composers of the 19th century.

Brahms was born in Hamburg. His father, who gave him his first music lessons, was a double bassist. Brahms showed early promise on the piano and helped to supplement the family income by playing the piano in restaurants, bars and brothels, as well as teaching. He gave a few public concerts, but did not become well known. He also began to compose, but his efforts did not receive much attention until he went on a concert tour with Eduard Remenyi in 1853. On this tour he met Joseph Joachim, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann, with whom he became particularly close.

In 1862 he settled for good in Vienna and began to concentrate fully on composing. He found great success in this field. In 1876, he finally completed his first symphony, on which he had worked for many years. It was described by the conductor Hans von Bülow as "Beethoven's tenth symphony" and is often called that today.

Brahms wrote four symphonies in all, as well as two piano concertos, a violin concerto, and many pieces of chamber music. He died in Vienna from liver cancer.


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Johannes Brahms overcame self-conscious doubts to create some of the most lasting music in the repertory
by Thomas May

Some composers, like Mozart or George Gershwin, seem to have been born in exactly the right era to match their creative temperament. Others don't fit in so easily, experiencing a more self-conscious--even detached--relationship to their historical context. It's in the latter group that you'll find Johannes Brahms, whose stature as one of the greatest of the great composers hasn't kept him from being one of the most misunderstood as well.

[read more...]
recommended recordings
Brahms: Symphonies nos 1-4, Haydn Variations / Sanderling
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Conductor: Kurt Sanderling
Ensemble: Dresden Staatskapelle
Bmg/Eurodisc - #69220 / August 7, 1990

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A thrilling Brahms cycle played by Germany's greatest orchestra under the baton of a legendary conductor. Do not confuse this set with Kurt Sanderling's later, less successful Brahms cycle on Capriccio. This is the one to get, and at rock-bottom budget price it's just one more proof of the fact that there's no relationship between quality of performance and price. Even if you already have a decent selection of Brahms symphonies, you can afford to add this terrific set to your collection. --David...Read more


Furtwangler Conducts Brahms - Complete Symphonies, etc / North German RSO, Berlin PO
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Conductor: Wilhelm FurtwŠngler
Performer: Edwin Fischer
Ensemble: North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, et al.
Music & Arts - #4941 / November 16, 1999

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What a bonanza: some of the most searching interpretations ever made of symphonic cornerstones, from a now bygone era of performance, here beautifully remastered by Music & Arts and packaged into a bargain set. Wilhelm Furtwängler's dynamic, always-evolving--and often unpredictable--visions of a classic score could overwhelm listeners with their paradoxical aura of the inevitable, wresting away the easy, dull comfort of familiarity. This is most dramatically the case with the conductor's performances of Beethoven. They still move and shake us free of lazy assumptions about this music with all the power of artistic truth. Furtwängler came relatively late to Brahms (like so many of the composer's most abiding admirers) but identified deeply with Brahms's dark strain of melancholy and self-consciousness. The Furtwängler trademarks are all here--palpable molding of tempos and dynamics to concentrate drama, oracular moments of insight, and an astonishingly compelling, organic sense of the whole....Read more


Brahms: Violinkonzert; Schumann: Fantasie / Mutter, Masur
Composer: Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann
Conductor: Kurt Masur
Performer: Anne-Sophie Mutter
Ensemble: New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Uni/Philips - #457075 / October 14, 1997

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Miracles CAN happen! Anne-Sophie Mutter is a great violinist, no doubt about it (and the highest paid classical performer in Germany, according to some sources). Kurt Masur is reliable, but rarely inspired. Well, here's one of those evenings where everything went just right, for this is a Brahms concerto that stands shoulder to shoulder with the great recordings of the past. Mutter plays with her customary scrupulous attention to detail, but also with a more than usual dose of passion and fire,...Read more


Brahms, Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos / Heifetz, Reiner
Composer: Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor: Fritz Reiner
Performer: Jascha Heifetz
Ensemble: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bmg/Rca Victor - #61495 / March 9, 1993

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This recording was one for the record books from the day it was made. There's an absolutely terrible 1940s movie called Carnegie Hall about a woman who works at the hall as an usher after the death of her drunken husband, supporting her young, musically talented son. She wants him to be a great... Read more

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem /Klemperer, Schwarzkopf, et al
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Performer: Ralph Downes, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, et al.
Ensemble: Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra
Emd/Emi Classics - #66955 / January 12, 1999

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This account of the German Requiem really is one of the great recordings of the century. Even today, Otto Klemperer's monumental interpretation with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, recorded in 1961, remains unmatched among readings that emphasize the spirituality of the score. Sober and sustained, but not unduly slow, it places Brahms on the continuum of German sacred music going back through Beethoven to Handel, Bach, and Schütz. Drawing committed playing and singing from his...Read more


Glenn Gould Edition - Brahms: Ballades, Rhapsodies, etc
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Performer: Glenn Gould
Sony Classics - #52651 / March 9, 1993

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Glenn Gould's accounts of the late pieces, recorded in 1960, are among the most affecting statements he made. He manages to balance the music on the edge of an almost unbearable emotional intensity without becoming larmoyant or dipping into salon sentimentality. The result is downright disturbing and depressing. But few pianists have achieved such extraordinary distillations of Brahms's late style as Gould does here, conveying painful passion held in check and peering into the counterpoint, yet...Read more


Brahms: Piano Concerto No 2, etc / Sviatoslav Richter
Composer: Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor: Erich Leinsdorf
Performer: Sviatoslav Richter
Ensemble: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bmg/Rca Victor - #56518 / January 12, 1993

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Richter was one of the those great virtuoso egomaniac genius types who was so insecure that he practiced for something like 10 hours a day, even before a scheduled performance. But it wasn't just getting the notes right that he was after. He was looking for the way to somehow get an entire work "into his hands," and trying to figure out the relationships between all of its different parts. That's why his performances--even the very slow one--have such an inevitable sounding organic unity. This...Read more


works & recordings

  • Chamber Music
    Trios, Quartets, Quintets

  • Choral
    Secular and sacred choral music. Oratorios, Masses, Partsongs, Hymns, Carols

  • Instrumental
    Sonatas, Suites, Overtures, Minuets, Variations, Transcriptions, Dance Music

  • Orchestra
    Concertos, Symphonies

  • Vocal and Opera
    Opera, Operetta, Song, Lieder, Musical Theater

Complete List of Works and Recordings

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