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Johannes Brahms And The Romantic Period

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The Romantic period was a period that spanned the entire 19th century. It came after the classical period and sought to increase the expression of deeper truths and the feelings of human beings while preserving the music structures of the classical period. Brahms is one of the prominent figures and composers of this era. Writing two serenades, two piano concertos, violin concertos, four symphonies, two orchestral overtures, and many more works that were destroyed or unpublished, Brahms became an influential figure of the Romantic period and served as an inspiration to future generations of musicians and composers alike.

Johannes Brahms was born on May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany. Johannes Brahms' father was Johann Jakob Brahms while Johannes' mother was Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen. Johann Jakob Brahms, like his son, was a musician of the 19th century. Johann was proficient in several instruments, including the French horn and the double bass. Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, Johannes' mother, was a seamstress living in Hamburg. Johannes Brahms also had a younger sister and a younger brother.

At the age of seven, Johannes Brahms began musical training on behalf of the will of his father. Brahms studied piano with pianist Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel. Due to his family being poor, Brahms often played in the brothels and dance halls of Hamburg. By the age of eleven, Brahms was composing sonatas for the piano. His compositions would not receive public attention or acclaim until he toured with Eduard Remenyi as an accompanist in the spring of 1853. On this tour, Johannes Brahms met Joseph Joachim, Joachim Raff, Franz Liszt, and Peter Cornelius; all were prominent musicians of the time. Joseph Joachim then introduced Robert Schumann to Johannes Brahms via a letter. Brahms then traveled to Dusseldorf to live with the Schumann family. Brahms impressed Schumann with his talent and was featured in an article in the music journal known as Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik which translates to New Journal of Music. This article brought the public's attention to the young Brahms. During this time, Brahms, along with Schumann and Albert Dietrich, composed the “F-A-E Sonata” for Joachim.

Brahms found himself as a pseudo head of household in the Schumann family during his stay. He had developed a close relationship with Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann's wife and fellow German composer and pianist. This emotionally but not romantically deep relationship would last for both of the composers' lifetimes, with constant communication between the both of them. When Schumann attempted suicide, he was placed in a mental rehabilitation facility. Brahms became the messenger between Clara and Robert Schumann during Robert's final years of life in the mental sanatorium. When Robert Schumann died in 1856, Brahms aided and comforted Clara for the next couple of years. This came at the sacrifice of Brahms' career as few compositions were written during this period of time after Robert Schumann's death.

After the death of Robert Schumann and the period of comforting his wife Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms found himself devoting his time between his obligations as the founder and conductor of a ladies' choir in Hamburg and his obligations in Detmold, Germany as the court music-teacher and composer. His Piano Concerto No.1 debuted in Hanover, Germany in 1859 and Brahms served as the soloist of the concerto. Brahms then visited Vienna in 1862 and was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie, a choir based in Vienna. He composed throughout the 1850's and the 1860's, writing multiple compositions for different orchestras, but many of his works received mixed reviews from contemporary critics of the time. One of his works, Piano Concerto No.1 was poorly received in early performances of the music piece. Prominent figures of the time, including Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner of the New German School labeled Brahms as an old-fashioned and non-innovative composer. Although Brahms admired the skills of Liszt as a pianist and admired the musical works of Wagner, a conflict known as the War of the Romantics arose with Brahms being a prominent figure of the conservative side and Liszt and Wagner being prominent figures of the progressive side.

Brahms rose to popularity in 1868 with the premiere of A German Requiem in Bremen. A German Requiem was Johannes Brahms' largest choral work and was the composition that won the public's acclaim and established Brahms' reputation in Europe as a leading composer and the conqueror of the symphony. It was with this newly formed reputation and acclaim that allowed Brahms to complete many of his earlier works that he had worked on for years such as the Rinaldo, a cantata, his third piano quartet, his first symphony, and his first string quartet. Brahms was a perfectionist and due to this, never finished or discarded many of the compositions he had worked on in the earlier years of his career. The first symphony premiered in 1876, and the other three premiered in 1877, 1883, and 1885. His Piano Concerto No.2 premiered in 1881 with Brahms once again as the soloist for the concerto. It was from this point on that Brahms was able to test his newly composed orchestral works with the Duke of Meiningen's court orchestra which was conducted by Hans von Bulow, one of the most famous composers of the 19th century. One of Brahms' works, the abbreviated version of his Hungarian dance for the piano, became the earliest recorded music piece in history. The piece was recorded by Theo Wangemann, a representative on behalf of the famous American inventor Thomas Edison, when Theo visited Vienna in 1889 and invited Johannes Brahms to make the first recording of a music piece in history. In that same year, Brahms was made an honorary citizen of Hamburg, the same city where he was born.

At the age of 57, Brahms made a resolve to give up on composing music for the rest of his life in 1890. Brahms was unable to follow through with this resolve and went back to composing music. It was during this time frame that Brahms composed a number of compositions that were acknowledged by critics and the public alike to be masterpieces. He composed even more music due to his admiration of Richard Muhlfeld, former violinist and now clarinettist of the Meininger Hofkapelle which was the Meiningen orchestra. These inspired musical works were Op. 114, Op. 115, Op. 116-119 also known as the Four Serious Songs, Op. 120, Op. 121, Op. 122, the Clarinet Trio, the Clarinet Quintet, the two Clarinet Sonatas, and the Eleven Chorale Preludes for the organ. Johannes Brahms developed cancer while completing the Op. 121 songs. His condition worsened which caused Brahms' death on April 3, 1897 at the age of 63. Brahms was buried in the Zentralfriedhof, the most famous and largest cemetery in Vienna.

Brahms' point of view combined elements of the Baroque and Classical periods and his futuristic views on music. His music was bold with its exploration of harmony and rhythm. Because of this, Johannes Brahms has a strong influence on both conservative and modernist composers. In his lifetime, Brahms was an influential figure on several composers within his circle who had a strong admiration of his music. These composers included Robert Fuchs, Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Julius Rontgen, and also Gustav Jenner who was Brahms' only formal pupil. Brahms also had a great influence on Antonin Dvorak who received great amounts of help from Brahms. Dvorak admired Brahms's music and was heavily influenced by it in many works by Dvorak including the Symphony No 7 in D minor. Notable features of Brahms' musical style were used with the personal styles of composers Max Reger, Wilhelm Berger, and Hans Rott. British composers Edward Elgar and Hubert Parry as well as the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar have noted that they have learned much from the works and examples set by Johannes Brahms. Brahms was honored by the Walhalla temple, the German Hall of Fame in 2000. On September 14 of that year, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the 126th “ruhmlich ausgezeichneter Teutscher” which translates to glorious excellent teacher and the 13th composer among them. A bust was sculpted in honor of him by sculptor Milan Knobloch.

A composer of the Romantic period, Brahms composed numerous works which left a strong impression on the public and served a model of inspiration for future musicians and composers. It was through his numerous works which have earned public acclaim that he became a leader and prominent figure of the musical scene at the time. An innovator and a traditionalist composer, Brahms was one of the most beloved musicians and composers of his time and still remains so today.


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