“Brahms demands a certain level of maturity.”
Thus explains music educator and journalist Koeritz. The composer’s body of works is characterised by expansive, romantic melodic arcs and an abundance of concurrent voices. To merge these into a pleasing sound, it was important to identify and emphasise the decisive lines. “Although Brahms wrote very emotional music that speaks from the soul, it is always based on very precise compositional work,” says Koeritz. Brahms repeatedly revised his compositions and whittled them down to the bare essentials, in his self-criticism even destroying many of his later works.
From poverty to prodigy
Johannes Brahms was born on 7 May 1833 in Hamburg’s Gängeviertel district. His mother was a seamstress, his father earned a modest living as a double bass and horn player in Hamburg’s dance halls. Despite coming from a family of modest means, Brahms’ musical talent was recognised and encouraged at an early age: He received piano tuition from the age of seven and composition lessons shortly afterwards. After performing on the piano to an audience for the first time at the age of 15, Hamburg soon celebrated him as a virtuoso pianist.
Schumann – a stroke of luck
Brahms met Robert and Clara Schumann in Düsseldorf when he was 20. “His acquaintance with Schumann was the springboard for Brahms’ career,” says Tim Koeritz. In a much-read article, Schumann promoted Brahms, praising him as a rising star, while the composer became an important confidant for the entire Schumann family.
Victorious in Vienna
From 1862, Johannes Brahms lived in Vienna, where he was celebrated as a pianist, conductor and composer. Many years were to pass before he completed his first symphony, fashioned from numerous ideas that had long languished in drawers. At that point, Beethoven was still the undisputed king and his works the benchmark for symphonic composition. When Brahms’ symphony was premiered in Karlsruhe in 1876, it was ridiculed and hailed in equal measure as “Beethoven’s Tenth”: Arnold Schönberg, the composer and architect of twelve-tone music, posthumously honoured Brahms as a progressive artist who had already contributed to the dissolution of tonality with his pieces.
Music with depth
Brahms composed many of his great orchestral works in Vienna, including the Hungarian Dance, his four symphonies and his German Requiem (1868). Although he never composed an opera, his opus comprises numerous choral compositions, lieder, piano music and sacred works. Koeritz recommends Brahms’ diverse, sizeable body of chamber music as particularly worthy of listeners’ attention and adds: “Despite all the sweet cantilenas and livelier pieces, such as his Zigeunerlieder, there is always a certain sobriety, depth and a dose of darkness and melancholy in Brahms’ music.” Johannes Brahms died in 1897 at the age of 63. For Tim Koeritz and many music enthusiasts, the composer undoubtedly counts among the 19th century’s greatest composers.
All the Munich Philharmonic’s Brahms concerts
Did you know?
In concert introductions held in collaboration with the Münchner Volkshochschule adult education centre before some Munich Philharmonic concerts in HP8, you can learn all about the works performed and their composers. Titled “Auftakten”, the introductions take place 75 minutes before each concert, have a duration of 40 minutes and are held in German. Providing an insight into the historical and musicological background of the performed works and their composers, the concert introductions are free for all ticket holders to the respective concert. You don’t need to book a place, but it’s advisable to arrive early as places are limited.
Text: Maria Zimmerer