Johannes Brahms: Brief Biography

Johannes Brahms acquired his fame as a symphonic composer, yet he only wrote four. He was in love with another man's wife. These and other secrets about this great man are revealed through the lesser known facts of history.

Today Johannes Brahms is best remembered for the symphonies he composed, but did you know that in his lifetime, his most famous pieces were German folk songs? Did you know that the great composer of the Romantic Period was quite the romantic himself, falling in love with his best friend's wife? Did you know that historians draw a direct link between Brahms' death and the death of the woman he loved? These are the lesser known facts about the well known musician.

Johannes Brahms was born into a musical family. His father was the bass player in the Hamburg Theater. The German family prided itself on its happy atmosphere at home and Johannes Brahms often spoke of his beloved childhood. Though much of the composer's work is grandiose in nature and style, some of it is lighthearted and even humorous. Brahms attributed the lighter side of his music to his youthful beginnings.

Brahms' father taught him violin and cello but he longed to know more. His father's friends, many of them the musicians at the Hamburg Theater, were willing to teach the boy other instruments and composition. Brahms' favorite instrument was the piano. Many of his compositions were for trios and quartets of stringed instruments, or stringed instruments with piano.

At the age of fourteen, Brahms began playing in public, giving concerts at theaters. But these concerts were not the ordinary performances of one playing the pieces of other composers. While Brahms did present the more serious music of Bach and Beethoven, he wrote original compositions that he blended into the program. These pieces were often variations on German folk songs and soon became popular with the German audiences, so popular, in fact, that they were the songs most requested in his concerts. Brahms' Lullaby and Hungarian Dances are examples of such pieces.

The gamut of Brahm's involvement in music encompassed teaching, performing, and composing. He only wrote four symphonies, but they are considered superb examples of the Romantic Period's impressionistic style, each creating an "atmosphere" of its own. They were named simply: No. 1 in C Minor, No. 2 in D Major, No. 3 in F Major, and No. 4 in E Minor.

Early on in his career, Brahms met the famous Robert Schumann, with whom he became friends. Schumann was so impressed with Brahms that he wrote articles about "This Genius Brahms." Brahms was often at the Schumann's home and became acquainted with Clara, Robert's wife. A loyal friend to Robert, Brahms did not pursue more than friendship with Clara, although he found himself falling in love with her.

Just three years after Brahms and the Schumanns met, Robert fell ill and died suddenly. Brahms continued to keep his friendship with Clara professional for the sake of public appearance but did not deny his love for her. Friends expected Brahms and Clara Schumann to marry. Why they did not is one of history's secrets. Brahms dedicated many of his works to Clara. The richness of melody and harmony has been supposed to be the outpouring of a bachelor's affection to unrequited love. Brahms remained a bachelor all of his life.

In 1886, when Brahms was 64 years of age, Clara Schumann died. The weather was cold and damp, but a grieving Brahms attended the graveside funeral. Brahms died a few months later. It is said that he died happy, thankful to have lived long enough to see his favorite season once again - spring.

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