Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Born in Hamburg to a lower class family. Father Johann Jakob was a “town musician” who cobbled together a meager living playing the horn and double bass. Mother Johanna was a seamstress 17 years older than his father. Johannes was the middle of three Brahms children. He showed an early proclivity for the piano and composition. His piano teacher Eduard Marxsen was of inestimable importance to the youth- offering an instrument and free lessons. By 11, he was helping support the impoverished family by playing piano at beer halls and brothels, an experience that scarred him for life. Hamburg was a port city overrun with gypsies. Brahms incorporated many of the folk elements, the vibrant rhythmic complexity and zest of the gypsies into his music. Listening example: Hungarian Dance No. 5 1853: a tour with Eduard Remenyi. “Hungarian” violinist led to contacts with Joseph Joachim, a lifelong musical partner and friend who introduces him to the Schumanns and to whom he dedicated the FAE Sonata (“Free but lonely”, or “Lonely but free”). Listening: Sonatensatz
1854-1863: Intensely involved with the Schumann household, often supported by Clara, a father-figure for the seven Schumann children.
Listening: Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor, inspired by Clara Schumann, but a total failure when it was first premiered.
1860: Manifesto for the War of the Romantics
1863: Moves to Vienna
1868: A German Requiem premiered and assures Brahms’ success Listening Example: Die Melodien
1870-1890: Years of maturity, success, mentorship and generosity
Late Works, all dedicated to Clara: Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118 No.2 Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 1
"I am tempted to copy out a small piano piece for you, because I would like to know how you agree with it. It is teeming with dissonances… The little piece is exceptionally melancholic and ‘to be played very slowly’ is not an understatement. Every bar and every note must sound like a ritard, as if one wanted to suck melancholy out of each and every one, lustily and with pleasure out of these very dissonances! Good Lord, this description will surely awaken your desire!“
-Letter from Johannes Brahms to Clara Schumann about Op.119, which he called “our piece”