When it comes to legends in the music industry, some budding artists turn to more classical composers for inspiration. Associated with masters of music like Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms was one of the most prominent composers in the 19th century. Throughout the span of his career, he created a number of symphonies and chamber ensembles, set in the traditional style, straying away from modernist pieces. Even to this day, his legacy in music continues to be an inspiration to aspiring musicians and composers.
Brahms’ Humble Beginnings
With his father as a double-bass player in the Hamburg Philharmonic Society, Brahms was introduced to music and composition at an early age. At age seven, he began playing the piano. By the time he reached adolescence, he had already become an accomplished virtuoso. When his family suffered tough financial times, Brahms performed along the docks and in local inns and brothels. Later on, he wrote a piano sonata in G minor in 1845, considered to be one of his earliest published works. As his talent for music and instruments blossomed, he studied under some prominent figures in the music world. For three years, he was tutored by pianist and composer Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853, he met German composer and critic, Robert Schumann, who quickly became his good friend and biggest supporter. He nicknamed Brahms the “young eagle” and spoke highly of his promising skills in the music industry. His kind words launched his career. Both Schumann and Brahms were in favor of a more classical style, symphonies similar to the melody behind a grand waltz or a concerto.
His livelihood as a brilliant composer flourished once he had moved to Vienna in the early 1860’s. Once he moved to Vienna, he remained there for the rest of his life. While there, he composed many works, like “String Sextet in B-flat Major” and “Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor.” Even towards the end of his life, he was still composing piano and choral pieces.
In his final years, his greatest inspiration was death itself. After Schumann’s wife passed away, “Vier ernste Gesange” was composed as a very revealing piece for Braham. This would become one of the last compositions he ever created.
A Revolution in Music
During the Romantic era, music was radically changing. Composers were being split into two completely different styles. More modernistic melodies were gaining momentum and popularity. Drawing inspiration from notable works of literature of the time, this contemporary tone, dubbed the “New German School”, had a free, unconventional rhythm, denouncing strict melodic form altogether.
Composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner were beginning to overshadow musical geniuses like Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Still inspired by the works of Mozart and Bach, Brahms stayed true to his classical compositions.
Although he wasn’t considered a modernist during this time period, Brahms still explored new rhythms and harmonies. His strides in the music community left a tremendous legacy for the next generation of musicians. The so called “Brahms style” was emulated by many composers, during and after his lifetime. Musicians such as Robert Fuchs, Ferruccio Busoni and Gustav Jenner all admired and were inspired by his legacy.
His Musical Contributions
In the long span of his career, Johannes Brahms held quite a few job titles. While in Hamburg, he was a conductor for a women’s choir. In the early 1870’s, he had led the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for three consecutive seasons. Also, he directed a number of historical and modern a Capellas for a choral group called Singakademie.
No matter his occupation, Brahms continued to write and compose music and traditional harmonies. While creating chamber music and choral pieces, it is believed he comprised over two hundred songs, which is a remarkable accomplishment. One of his most notable works was presented in 1868, shortly after the death of his mother. Titled “A German Requiem”, the composition was based on texts from the bible. This multi-faceted piece combined a mixed chorus, solo vocals and a complete orchestra, all in perfect harmony. Based on the appraisal of musical scholars, this composition is deemed one of the most important pieces of choral music ever created in the 19th century.
One of his strongest abilities was forming counterpoint melodies. By definition, counterpoint, in musical composition, refers to the relationship between vocal arrangements that are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm. Later on his life, Brahms created pieces such as “Double Concerto in A Minor,” “Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor” and the “Violin Sonata in D Minor.” Also, he completed works like “String Quintet in F Major” and “String Quintet in G Major.” Over the span of his career, Johannes Brahms’s influence paved the way for other musicians, both in contemporary and classical settings.
The Inspiration of Brahms and His Legacy
Johannes Brahms once said “Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind”
Despite the rise of modern composition, Brahms remains a champion of classical composition throughout the entirety of his career. Studying other well-known musicians and being influenced by their impressive work, Johannes Brahms forged his own path in the music industry and made a name for himself. Although inspired by the classics of his generation, he manages to form his own style and rhythm that set him apart from other composers of the time.
Brahms’ story is a real testament of making something your own, whether it is art or music or poetry. By straying away from contemporary, he kept with tradition, which ending up being his true passion and calling. Young musicians today could learn from Johannes Brahms life and career. Now, budding virtuosos can study classical melodies, and the musical maestros behind them, and become inspired and influenced by past notable works. However, when creating art, there is a level of individuality that must be achieved in order to produce something special. Be inspired by the artists that came before you, and discover your own voice and talent, in whatever form of art.