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Composers: Johannes Brahms

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Johannes Brahms

by Setrak Setrakian

Johannes Brahms

A handsome bachelor. Although Brahms was a serious, sensitive man, like Schubert, he still managed to keep in touch with a wide circle of friends and enjoyed such a warm friendship. Besides that, when Brahms had achieved wide fame, he was very generous and often helped the new composers like Dvorák.
However, Brahms had his bad habit. He never think before he spoke. This indicates that he always expressed his opinions, good or bad, too frankly or blurted out anything he wanted to say. His rude speaking irritated people around him. Some thought that Brahms liked to tease anyone. A typical example, the young Brahms confessed that Liszt was an 'unsecured composer' and found the old composer's Piano Sonata in B minor boring. As a result, the old Liszt took offence and broke off their relationship abruptly.

Piano-Playing Style:
Brahms' playing style was quite similar to Beethoven's. However, with his physically large hands, one could see his large daring leaps and crossed hands across the keyboard; in addition, with the hands high and the fingers widely stretched, Brahms played strong, heavy chords as if a tiger showing its claws.
Despite his powerful and dramatic playing style, Brahms still managed to play gently and smoothly. That is why he was a skilled accompanist. He always accompanied the singers and the musicians supportively like the violinists Eduoard Reményi and Joseph Joachim.

Like Beethoven, Brahms' music falls into three periods.
During the first period, the young Brahms struggled to fit his romantic music into the classical forms. His music was very grand; showing his serious-mindedness and self-conscious nobility. Therefore, people at that time felt that Brahms' music was very clumsy and too heavy. Some famous works produced in this period were three piano sonatas, the extremely difficult and big Piano Concerto no 1 (the music produced by orchestra was so grand and strong that seemed to be trying to overwhelm the piano part) etc. These works showed Beethovenian style and dominated by the old classical forms rather than Brahms' own formal idea.
Next, Brahms seemed to be more confident and matured in composing. He produced a huge amount of works in this period. The music was still tense and dramatic, but contained a more relaxed manner and a quality of unexpected charm and grace compared with his early works. And yet his works sometimes showed a Schumannesque lyricism and sentimentality, especially in his lovely songs. Examples of the works produced were Handel Variations and Paganini Variations, rhapsodies, the graceful string quartets, the lyrical Violin Concerto and romantic Piano Concerto no 2, symphonies etc.
In the final period, unlike Beethoven whose music was increasingly difficult and intense, Brahms produced a very tender, personal kind of music though there was a little Brahmsian spark. The music showed the expression of serenity, calm, beauty and simplicity. Intermezzi for piano, the clarinet quintet, the last violin sonata and some organ works were among the Brahms' final works.

Composing Habit:
Brahms was quite 'sloppy' and slow composer. He was extremely careful and slow in composing large works like symphonies. This was because like Schubert, Brahms was very awared of Beethoven's excellent symphonies. The first symphony took him almost 20 years to complete.
Although Brahms was quite lazy, the quality of his works was not affected. Besides that, he was a conscious classicist. Like Mendelssohns, he employed the old classical forms - sonata, variation, polyphony, counterpoint etc. Therefore, Brahms' music was often referred to as 'classical-romantic' - a combined classical form with the quality of romanticism - making him as a great composer.

Brahms' Quote:
"I leave the world to go as it pleases. I can only too often reminded that I am a difficult person to get on with, and I am accustomed to bearing the consequences of this,"
Brahms showed his "I-don't-care" attitude over the opinions of people around him
"You see, I am rather lazy, but once begun I never cool down over a work until it is perfected, unassailable."
Brahms saying to the conductor Georg Henschel, 1876
"Composing a symphony is no laughing matter. You have no idea of how it feels to hear a giant's footsteps behind you!"
Brahms, compared himself to Beethoven, 1870
"For a long time, or for all time, I have been a somewhat lonely individual and still am,"
Brahms, being a lonely bachelor, wrote in a letter to his friend, the surgeon and amateur musician Theodor Billroth, 22 July 1886

Brahms' Death:
After Brahms turned to 50, he began to tire. He felt lonely after the breakup with the violinist Joseph Joachim and the death of the conductor Hans Von Bülow (both of them were his close friends).
Finally, it was the death of Clara Schumann, with whom Brahms was in love, that gave the final blow. Discovering that he had liver cancer, he gave up and died on 3 April, 1897, a month before his 64th birthday.

The views and opinions in this blog post are those of its author.

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