“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind”
“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.”
“If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.”
Johannes Brahms was born on this day in Hamburg, Germany in 1833. Today is the 181st anniversary of his birth.
The second of three children born to Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen and Johann Jakob Brahms, Johannes’ love of music came from his father who played horn and double bass. Little Johannes was playing piano by age seven and earning money as a musician “at local inns, in brothels and along the city’s docks” [Biography.com] by the time he was a teenager.At age 20 he met German composer Robert Schumann. Schumann help his career, and Brahms quickly became friends with Schumann and his wife Clara, a pianist and composer in her own right. When Schumann attempted suicide and had to be confined to a sanitarium, Brahms helped out the desperate (and very pregnant) Clara, by moving into the apartment above the family and acting as go between from the Schumann household and the hospital. Schumann died in the sanitarium a few years later, but Brahm’s friendship with Clara continued. He relied on her to review his compositions and valued her opinions.
While in Hamburg he “held several different posts, including conductor of a women’s choir in Hamburg” [Ibid]. His compositions from this period include:
- String Sextet in B-flat Major
- Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor
Here’s his String Sextet in B-Flat Major as performed by the Berlin Philharmonic:
He moved to Vienna in 1850 and in 1863 took the post of Director of the Singakademie, an a cappella group that focused on historical and modern works.
Brahms, for the most part, enjoyed steady success in Vienna. By the early 1870s he was principal conductor of the Society of Friends of Music. He also directed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for three seasons…. In 1868, following the death of his mother, he finished “A German Requiem,” a composition based on Biblical texts and often cited as one of the most important pieces of choral music created in the 19th century. The multi-layered piece brings together mixed chorus, solo voices and a complete orchestra. [Ibid]
He’d found his home in Vienna and lived there for the rest of his life. He traveled in summer, touring Europe for concerts and for pleasure.
These later years for the composer saw him living a comfortable life. His music, since 1860 anyway, had sold well, and Brahms, far from flamboyant or excessive, lived a frugal life in his simple apartment. A shrewd investor, Brahms did well in the stock market. His wealth, however, was rivaled by his generosity, as Brahms often gave money to friends and young musical students. [Ibid]
Brahms was rather famous in his old age for being sarcastic and rude to adults, but he loved children (and would often give them candy when he saw them in the street.) His music was popular and sold well, and he lived comfortably and with in his means. He was generous to his friends and his students.
Brahms contracted Liver (or perhaps Pancreatic) Cancer and died at the age of 63 on April 3, 1897.
He wrote in a variety of genres for a number of instruments, and his works include:
- Choral Pieces
- Folk Dances
- Folk Songs