Brief synopsis' of the most popular
compositions by Johannes Brahms...
German, Hamburg, 7 MAY 1833 ~ Vienna, 3 APR 1897
4 Symphonies, 2 Serenades, 3 Quartets, 3 Trios, 2 Piano Concertos,
Violin Concerto, 230 Songs, Chamber, Keyboard Choral and
Brahms Academic Festival
Op 80. The German pianist, conductor and composer was born in 1833 and
died in Vienna in 1897. His Academic Festival Overture was written in 1880
and is based on four student songs. It was FP on January 4th, 1881 at
University and was conducted by Brahms upon receiving an honorary degree.
Brahms Double Concerto
His last work for orchestra. He was fascinated by the task of writing the
work. He called it his latest piece of folly, because the combination of a
violin and a cello was quite unusual at that time. The work posed
technical artistic problems as the solo parts a difficult. Each soloist
must play to the background of a full symphonic orchestration. This makes
the cooperation between the two soloist very demanding. It was written in
Brahms was not a very religious man, in fact he started his career as a
whorehouse pianist at the Hamburg docks. In his German Requium he considered
removing any reference to God by calling it a Human Requium a thought which
was rejected. He did have selected knowledge of the bible to select the
texts for this work. It was composed in 1867, a cantata choral work on
sacred texts for orchestra, chorus, two soloists and organ. It begins and
ends on the words "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be
Brahms Tragic Overture
Op. 81. A companion peice to Brahms better known Academic Festival
were composed in the summer of 1880. Brahms titled the work, "Tragic", for
no specific reason. Some critics say the name refers to tragic works such
as 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear'.
Brahms PC No. 1
Brahms wrote to his friend Clara Schumann in 1854..."I'm making a gentle
portrait of you in the form of an adagio". This became the second MMT of
his PC in D minor, which was described by a critic as a noble, searching
and introspective concerto. The first version was completed in early 1858.
FP in Hanover on Jan 22, 1859 with Brahms as soloist. It was later revised
and published in 1862.
Brahms PC No
2 in B-flat Op 83
Starting quietly with a haunting horn theme, this is one of the most
massive and powerful concertos in the classical form. In fact one 19th
century critic called it a symphony with piano obligato. It's a four MMT
concerto and was FP on Nov 9, 1881 with Brahms as soloist.
Brahms "Violin Concerto" was written with his old friend Joachim, a
popular violinist. Joachim corrected awkward passages for the solo part
and wrote the cadenza in the first mmt. Joachim gave the FP on NYrs Day in
Leipzig 1879. Like Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchikovsky, Elgar and Sibelius
...Brahms wrote only one concerto for violin.
Brahms 'Serenade No 1' in d,
Op 11 1857-8. Scored for chamber group but was revised at the suggestion of Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim to be
played by a larger orchestra. The FPO was in the chamber format in Hamburg March 28, 1859. In it's grander format it was FP in
Hanover March 3, 1860.
Brahms 'Serenade No 2' in A,
Completed in 1859 it was published by Nicholas Simrock, of Bonn, the
following year. Simrock
and Brahms developed a close professional and social friendship which led to
a lucrative association through their later years.
Brahms Schicksalslied "Song of Destiny", Op 54
Completed in 1871. The poem comes from the novel 'Hyperion' by Fredrich
Holderin, an 18th century poet. "The Gods wander in light... but suffering
humanity wanders in darkness".
Brahms 'String Quartet No 2 in a
After many failed attemps at composing a String Quartet he finally composed
one he thought rivaled Mozart or Beethoven. His first two published quartets
came in his 40th year. They are passionate minor key works and are amoung
any of his finest compositions in any genre.
Sym No 1 in c Op 68
A work inspired by Beethoven's Ninth Sym, "The Choral", in fact
conductor Hans Von Bulow called it Beethoven's tenth. Brahms finished it
in September of 1874 after many years of neglect.
Brahms Sym No
2 in D, Op 73
Of the four Brahms Syms, the second is the most tranquil. It suggests
country landscapes. Brahms sketched the work in 1855, but it took him more
than 20 years to finish the score. Listen closely and you may think it
inspired Stephen Foster's 'Beautiful Dreamer'.
Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick called it, peaceful, tender and
vivacious in its' golden serenity.
Brahms Sym No
3 in F, Op 90
The briefest of his 4 syms, but perhaps the most complex. It has many
musical devices spanning the entire work. Themes link between the MMTs
with lyrical melodies for an overall harmonious effect never heard before
this work. It's scope was larger than any heard before this time. It has
been called an 'Eroica', a 'Forest Idyl' and another
'Four Seasons'. It appears to have been inspired by Dvoraks' fifth
symphony. It's a work of drama, majesty and lyrical beauty and ends without
a cresendo...very quietly.. FP in
Vienna Dec 2, 1882. It netted him a fee comparable to $9,000 in todays
Brahms - Sym No
4 in e Op 98
Perhaps his most colorful symphony of the four, this last one was not
with audiences for many years. Composed in 1885 there are no literal repeats
in the work, the finale is tragic in tone and the third movement is the only
traditional fast movement in any of his four symphonies. We suspect he was
influenced by Dvorak's seventh symphony . Listen for the solemn trombones in
the finale the only movement where they are heard.
Brahms Trio for Piano, violin and horn
A mournful tribute to the passing of his mother. Composed in 1865.
'Variations on a Theme by Haydn' Op 56 (Not really Haydn's)
In 1870 Karl Pohl, a Haydn biographer, showed some unpublished
divertimentos to Brahms who used one as a basis for his variations on a
theme by Haydn. The 8 variations were FP at a concert by the Vienna PO in
June of 1873 with Brahms conducting.
It has become one of his most popular works. In recent years the theme has
been attributed to annonymous sources. Not to Haydn at all.
Haydn's work has the title 'St. Anthony's Choral'. Brahms work has the
orchestral version as well as one for piano duo.
Brahms Violin and Cello
Concerto' in a Op 102
Brahms was fascinated with his work on this concerto. It was called by
many a piece of folly, because a work for violin and cello was very
unusual. It was completed in 1887.
in D Op 77
He worked on this concerto during the summer of 1878 in a Austrian
village where he had previously composed the lyrical Second Symphony and
where in the following summer he was to compose the G major violin sonata.
It was written for a close friend, the famous violinist Joseph Joachim
who scored his cadenzas for his performances.
Johannes Brahms occupies a heady, prominent position in the pantheon
of classical composers, yet he is also one of the most
misunderstood. A great way into his music--with all its
contradictions--is through the lyrically abundant Violin Concerto
Brahms composed during his mature, fertile outburst of symphonic
creativity. Check out our Get Started with Brahms Classical feature which includes an audio tour and essay, and let Amazon.com's
experts introduce you to this immensely rewarding composer.
Get Started with Brahms
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