Johannes Brahms was born on 7 May, 1833 in Hamburg. His father was a double bass player with the Hamburg opera, and recognised Johannes' talent early on. Although the family was rather poor, a great emphasis was placed on education for all the children, and Johannes studied the piano from the age of seven and theory and composition from 13. His first public performance as a solo pianist was in 1847 at the age of 14. By 1848 he had begun to make his living by playing in taverns and dance halls.
By the time Brahms reached manhood, the Romantic movement in music was in full swing. While Berlioz, Liszt, and Chopin had taken music along exciting new paths of free form and expression, Brahms looked into the past - to Bach for such forms as the fugue and to Beethoven for the sonata and the symphony.
In 1853, Brahms embarked on a concert tour of Germany, and it was then that he met Joseph Joachim and Robert and Clara Schumann. The Schumanns would have a profound effect on the career and private life of Johannes. Schumann hailed the young composer as the coming genius of German music and arranged for the publication of his first songs and piano sonatas. During these early years, Schumann's mental state was deteriorating rapidly, and Clara and Johannes fell in love with each other. Johannes' devotion to Clara would remain constant throughout his life, but it is not thought that they ever consummated their relationship.
Even as a young composer, much of Brahm's music already had a serious sound to it.
Schumann's lifelong friendship with Joachim is to thank for the beautiful Hungarian Dances as well as the fiery last movement of the marvellous Violin Concerto in D Major. It was Joachim and one of his fellow Hungarian pupils, Eduard Remenyi who first interested Brahms in the colourful folk music of their native land. Their own compositions were often infused with the high spirits of gypsy music. Brahms asked Joachim to correct any awkward or impractical passages in the solo part for his Violin Concerto, and it was Joachim who gave the first performance of the work in Leipzig, Germany on New Year's Day, 1879.
As Brahms matured, and especially after he settled in Vienna in 1868, with its more relaxed atmosphere, both Brahms and his music mellowed. As he grew older still, an autumnal sadness crept into his compositions.
In reality, Brahms was not the unshakeable bastion of tradition that he was sometimes made out to be by public opinion. True, he wrote big symphonies, concertos, sets of variations, and chamber works in the manner of Beethoven. However, there was a pronounced Romantic side to him as well. He loved Hungarian gypsy music and the Viennese waltzes of Johann Strauss II. It was the fine balance that Brahms struck between Classical forms and early romantic era sentiment that makes him one of the towering figures of 19th-century music. People will always love Brahms for the strength of his musical thinking, tempered by other more openly romantic aspects of his personality: the sunny warmth and sometimes tenderness behind the gruff exterior, and the dark but beautiful mood of his closing years.
Johannes Brahms died on 3 April, 1897 of liver cancer.
contributed by Gifford, Katya