Johannes Brahms was born in May of 1833 in Hamburg, Germany. His father, Johann Jakob, was a double bass player at the Stadttheater theater. He gave Johannes his first music lessons and then brought him to Otto Willibald Cossel to learn piano, followed by Eduard Marxsen for piano and music theory in Altona.In the 1950s Brahms was touring with violinist Eduard Reményi (who studied under the renowned Joseph Bohm), and met Joseph Joachim in Hanover. Their life-long friendship began at this time, and they toured and performed together quite often.Brahms spent some time in Weimar with Franz Liszt, who enjoyed playing his compositions. He then moved to Dusseldorf to study with Robert Schumann – whom also became his lifelong friend and had the greatest impact on his career. From 1862, Brahms settled in Vienna and was the director of ‘Sing-Academie’ (Wiener Singakademie), a mixed choir. In ten years he moved on to direct at the Society of the Friends of Music (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde or music association).A newsworthy event occurred in 1859, when brahms premiered his first piano concerto in D minor, op.15, at Gewandhaus Leipzig. It was met with much criticism due to its unusual form. However it was met with loud applause and recognition in concerts that followed after twenty years in Vienna and Switzerland. Clara Schumann also enjoyed performing this concerto, and accounts show it was well received by audiences. Accounts of Brahms suggest he had a positively strong personality. He was said to have been as encouraging in performance as he was in conducting an orchestra. In 1877 he was the recipient of a Doctorate in Music by Cambridge University of England, and in 1879, a Doctorate in Philosophy by Breslau University (University of Wrocław) in Poland.His works are often said to be fairly classically oriented. One could say they are a fusion of Classical and Romantic. His orchestration was certainly Romantic, often using large orchestras and a wide range of instruments – by no means lacking in power. One of his key identifiers is the extensive combination of duple versus triplet rhythms, as well as the effect created by the use of ¾ time signature while having sections sound as though they are in 4/4 meter. Brahms was inspired by multiple composers. This is reflected in his Variations based on their themes. One of his most difficult works for the fortepiano is the ‘Variations on a Theme by Paganini in A minor, op. 35. This is a set of two books containing the theme of Paganini’s 24th caprice, and total of 28 grueling, technically demanding variations.There are two pieces titled ‘Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann’, op. 9 and op.23. The first based on Schumann’s Bunte Blatter, op. 99 No. 4 dedicated to Clara Schumann (Albumblätter), and ‘Theme in Eb’, a short piano piece written in 1854.Possibly the most well known Theme and Variations for orchestra that Brahms had written is based on a Theme by Haydn (in Bb, op. 56), from his ‘Divertimento in Bb’ (Hob.II:46), the ‘Chorale St. Antoni’ for oboes, bassoons, contrabassoon, and two horns. There is doubt as to whether Haydn actually composed this theme.Finally, He’d written ‘Variations and Fugue’ on a theme by G.F. Handel, on the 3rd movement of his ‘Suite in Bb’ HWV 434.Superb dedications to Brahms include Joseph Joachim Concerto for violin and orchestra no.2 in D minor op.11
A beautiful, less familiar piece by Brahms that includes viola,‘2 Gesänge’ (Chants) op.91; Two songs for alto voice, viola, and piano accompaniment.