Born in 1833 to an average musician father with moderate means, and spending his childhood in and around waterfront brothels, witnessing women being used as castaways, Johannes Brahms, never ventured into matrimony. Early in life, despite his poverty, seeing Brahms’ inclination towards music, his father sent him for piano lessons, and by 14 he had made a public appearance.
It was his mentor Robert Schumann, who saw great promise in Brahms and took him under his wings. In fact, he was so enamoured about Brahms’ potential, that he wrote an essay, ‘ New Paths’ which announced to the world that the 21-year old Brahms is the one to be ‘vouchsafed to give the highest and most ideal expression to the tendencies of the times…’.
Tragically, Schumann had to spend his later years in an asylum, and when he died, it brought Brahms closer to Schumann’s wife, Clara. Though the nature of their relationship is unclear, and they lived separate lives, in anticipation of her death, he had written his profound, Four Serious Songs. When Clara died in 1896, Brahms rushed to her grave with memories of their relationship, though fraught with uncertainty and desperation. Exactly a year later, Brahms, who never married, passed away.
Hungarian Dance No.5 in G Minor
The German composer and pianist was considered a great master of symphonic and sonata style, who wrote symphonies, piano works, choral compositions, concerti, chamber music and over 200 compositions. Some of his most popular compositions included Symphony No.3 in F Major, Wiegenlied, Op.49, No.4, and Hungarian Dances. His music career is known for its diversity—from the humorous to the traumatic—though his larger works display an enhanced degree of mastery of movement.
Post the 1860s till the 1890s was a period of immense creative output for Brahms. Around the time his mother died, he completed a composition based on Biblical texts, A German Requiem; it is considered to be among the most important pieces of 19th century choral music. The 1880s and ‘90s saw commendable compositions like Double Concerto in A Minor, Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Violin Sonata in D Minor, String Quintet in F Major” and String Quintet in G Major. It is said of Brahms that being a perfectionist, he would scrap pieces he found unworthy.
A German Requiem (excerpt)
Contemporaries of Brahms often refer to the “three great Bs”—namely, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. As he neared his end, the composer completed Vier ernste Gesange, lamenting life on earth, and welcoming death as a solace from the material existence’s sufferings. Five days before he died at the age of 63, he wrote to his stepmother a note, “I’ve gone to bed awhile, for the sake of variety…But don’t be afraid, nothing has changed, and all I need is patience as usual”.