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The Hands of Music: Johannes Brahms

Born in Hamburg, Germany on 7 May 1833, Johannes Brahms would become a great composer and pianist of the Romantic period.

His father was a double bassist in the Hamburg Philharmonic Society and as such, music was introduced to Brahms at an early age and he began playing the piano at age 7. By the time he was a teenager, Brahms was already a well-known musician. He used his great musical ability to earn money at local inns, brothels and along the city’s docks in order to aid his family as they were not financially well-off.

In 1853, Brahms was introduced to Robert Schumann, a renowned German composer and music critic. The two men became close friends and Schumann saw Brahms’ great musical potential. He praised Brahms, calling him a genius publicly in a famous article. This commendation quickly made Brahms a known entity in the music world. However, Schumann fell ill in 1854. As a symbol of his close friendship with Schumann and his family, Brahms aided Schumann’s wife, Clara, with household affairs. After Schumann’s death in 1856, Brahms and Clara remained friends.

In the following years, Brahms took on many jobs and continued to write his own music. In the early 1860s, he made his first visit to Vienna where he enjoyed steady success. He was known to be sarcastic, stubborn and uncompromising with adults but softer with children, often giving penny candy to the kids he encountered in his neighbourhood in Vienna. Furthermore, he liked nature and went on regular long walks in the woods.

He remained in Vienna for the rest of his life and travelled extensively throughout Europe during the summers.

He also went on concert tours. Moreover, during these performances, he either conducted or performed strictly his own material.

Since 1860, Brahms’ music had sold well and allowed him to live a comfortable life. He was not excessive and lived a frugal life in his simple apartment. He also did well in the stock market. Additionally, he was extremely generous, frequently giving money to friends and young music students.

Music-wise, he was a perfectionist. If he deemed a finished piece unworthy, he would destroy them. He was so committed that even though he claimed to give up composing in 1890, he broke that claim and continued to do so.

Death was frequently on Brahms’ mind. It was around the time of 20 May 1896, when his friend Clara died after years of health issues, that his own health started to take a turn for the worse. He gave his last performance in Vienna in March 1897 before passing away a month later on 3 April 1897 due to cancer.

Despite this, his works still remain extremely relevant in today’s musical climate. His works included symphonies, concertos, chamber music and more. Some of his most famous compositions include Die Mainacht, Piano Quartet Op. 26, Liebeslieder Waltzes and so on. He was considered the great master of symphonic and sonata style in the later half of the 19th century.


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