Johannes Brahms (pronounced [joːˈhanəs ˈbʁaːms]) (May 7, 1833 ? April 3, 1897), German composer and pianist, was one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms's popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs.
Brahms composed for piano, for chamber ensembles, for symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. An accomplished pianist, he gave the first performance of many of his own works; he also worked with the leading performers of his time, including the virtuoso pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many works and left some unpublished.
Brahms was at once a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous. Yet within these structures, Brahms created bold new approaches to harmony and timbre which challenged existing notions of tonal music. His contribution and craftsmanship has been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. Brahms's works were a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers, including Schoenberg, who eventually abandoned tonality.
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 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 Lutheran 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 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 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 and 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 'opus posthumous'). 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 songs. His chorale preludes for organ op. 122, which he wrote shortly before his death, have become an important part of the organist's repertoire.
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; indeed, 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 Op. 39 for piano duet, 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' friend Bertha Faber and is universally known as Brahms' Lullaby.
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