Johannes Brahms is the great melancholic among 19th century composers. His music is probably the last great homage to classical form. Like so many other composers, he was not blessed with great social skills. But the relationships he chose to have were everything to him. For example, his friendship with violinist Joseph Joachim and with Clara and Robert Schumann. He was suspicious of the “New German School,” represented by Liszt and Wagner, and saw himself as a symphonist living in the symphony’s final era. But we can’t consider him a backward-looking composer: Brahms’s works reflect the inner unrest of modern man, seeking support in crumbling certainties. Especially toward the end of his life, his works, and above all his character, revealed great authority - and a sense of humor, also toward himself and his own limitations.
1853 Robert Schumann published an article heralding Brahms as a rising great composer.
1856 After Robert Schumann’s death in 1856, Brahms remained close friends with Clara Schumann.
1857 First Piano Concerto, still with the assistance of Joseph Joachim.
1858 Brahms initiates a brief relationship with Agathe von Siebold (1835-1909). They are engaged, but he ends the relationship since a family would have affected his career.
1863-1864 The composer is named choral director at Vienna’s Singakademie. But he quits the post, feeling overworked by the administration and with barely enough time to compose.
1868 Highly successful premiere of the German Requiem at Bremen Cathedral.
1872-1875 Brahms is appointed director of Vienna’s Singverein and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
1897 Johannes Brahms dies on April 3 and is buried at Vienna’s Central Cemetery.
Did you know?
Brahms to Eduard Hanslick: “While writing the title of the four-hand waltzes, which are to appear shortly, your name came to me spontaneously. I don’t know why, I thought of Vienna, of the beautiful girls with whom you play four-hand music, of your yourself, a connoisseur of these and a good friend.”
Brahms in his own words: “It doesn’t just come to you like that! Do you think my compositions came to me just like that, the finished article? I had to slave away at them!”
“When I feel the urge, I begin by directly appealing to my Maker and I first ask Him the three most important questions pertaining to life here in this world - whence, wherefore, whither?”
“What one actually calls invention, meaning a real idea, is, so to speak, a higher perception, inspiration - that is to say I can’t help it.”
A comment about Johannes Brahms from Clara Schumann’s diary: “His beautiful hands, which overcome the greatest difficulties with perfect ease (his pieces are very difficult), and in addition these remarkable compositions.”