temple emanu-el
top border
Johannes Brahms

Johannes BrahmsJOHANNES BRAHMS (1833 – 1897) was born in Hamburg, Germany, to Johann Jakob Brahms, a town musician, and Chrisiane Nissen, a seamstress. Brahms received his earliest musical training from his father and then studied with Otto Cossel and Eduard Marxsen, who had studied in Vienna with Ignaz Seyfried (a pupil of Mozart) and Carl von Bocklet (a close friend of Franz Schubert). Brahms began composing at an early age, and in his early teens he already was conducting choirs.

However, it was not until 1853 that Brahms received his first “break” as a composer. While touring as the accompanist to Hungarian violinst Eduard Reményi, Brahms met Joseph Joachim, likewise a Hungarian violinist, who introduced him to composer and music critic Robert Schumann. Amazed by Brahms’ talent, Schumann wrote an article praising him and introducing him to the public. Brahms remained close to Schumann and his wife, pianist and composer Clara Schumann, throughout their lives.

Brahms first traveled to Vienna in 1862, and in 1863 he was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie, where he focused on historical and a cappella works. From 1872 to 1875, he was principal conductor of the Society of Friends of Music, and for three seasons, he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. But, he essentially was able to live successfully without accepting another formal position.

In 1890, at age 57, Brahms vowed to give up composing, but he actually produced some of his most well-known works in the years before his death. Over the course of his career, Brahms wrote four symphonies, approximately two dozen pieces of chamber music, solo piano music, and vocal and choral music, including some 200 German lieder (art songs). In this last category, his work Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), written in 1868, following the death of his mother and based on Lutheran biblical texts, is considered one of the most important choral pieces of the 19th century. In the year before his death, Brahms completed Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), which features three songs with texts from the Hebrew Bible and text of the fourth from the New Testament. Dealing with death and the transience of life, as well as faith, hope and charity, the songs were begun when Clara Schumann suffered a stroke in March 1896 and were completed in May 1896 in anticipation of her death.

Brahms gave his last performance in March 1897 in Vienna. He died a month later from complications resulting from cancer.

Back to Composers
photo of temple
One East 65th St., New York, New York 10065. Phone  212-744-1400
One East 65th Street, New York, NY 10065    (212) 744-1400 horizontal rule Member Log In | Calendar | Site Map | Contact Us | Text Size [+] [-]