Johannes Brahms Facts: Learn About The Great Composer

Johannes Brahms is one of the greatest composers of our lifetime, and he was famous during the middle of the Romantic period. We’re going to tell you some of the best Brahms facts, so keep reading to find out everything you’ve wanted to know. 

Johannes Brahms Was Born in Germany in 1833

Brahms was born on May 7, 1833, in Hamburg, Germany, to Johann Jakob Brahms and Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen. 

His Father Was In The Hamburg Philharmonic 

February 26, 2010 – Double bass left on stage. Image source: Garry Knight from London, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brahms’ father was Jakob Brahms, a very famous horn player who played in the Hamburg Philharmonic. He also was in a military band and could play the double bass, so that is where Brahms probably got his musical talents and abilities.

He Started Piano Lessons at Seven Years Old 

Unknown – Vintage piano. Image source: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/760215, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brahms started playing the piano when he was seven years old and had learned other instruments too, including the cello and violin. He was sent to F.W. Cossel for more piano lessons, and then in a few years, his father thought he should learn piano from the same man who taught him, so he was then sent to Eduard Marxsen

Johannes Brahms Helped Provide For His Family As a Teenager 

Brahms’ family wasn’t that well off even though his father was part of the philharmonic, so he began working when he was just 13. He would utilize his piano skills to play in restaurants, taverns, brothels, dance halls, and other venues to earn money. 

He Would Dedicate Songs To His First Love At 14

June 16, 2016 – An open book with bookmarks. Image source: Martin Vorel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brahms would have his first real crush when he was 14 and would dedicate songs to this special lady, Leischen Giesemann. They would read books to one another and together, although there is no information on if anything else happened between them since they were kids at the time. However, they would remain friends for years and stay in contact, which seems to indicate no hard feelings existed over the years.

Johannes Brahms Became Fond Of Folk Music Due To His Work 

Hungarian Dance no. 5

He became fond of folk music while working in venues as a teenager to make money. It helped expand his musical knowledge and interests, and the Hungarian Dances is one composition he would later create as a result of this new love of folk music. 

He Would Become Friends With Famous Composer Robert Schumann 

19th Century – Robert Schumann. Image source: Archivio Storico Ricordi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most influential figures in young Brahms’ life was the famous composer Robert Schumann. Not only was this man a composer, but he also was a music critic and played piano. It meant a lot to Brahms when Schumann called him a genius and would help shape his future as a composer. Schumann even wrote an essay called New Paths, which helped Johannes get some attention. 

Johannes Brahms Fell For Robert Schumann’s Wife

1838 / 1990 – Clara Schumann excerpt from the lithograph by Andreas Staub and depiction on a 100 Deutsche Mark note. Image source: User:DocNöck, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Schumann and Brahms were very good friends, but it was Clara Schumann, who was also a pianist, whom Brahms would fall in love with, and it became a lifelong infatuation. Schumann tried to kill himself and was put into an asylum, which is when Brahms got even closer to Clara and was helping her get through those hard times. He even started writing her letters and proclaiming his love for her. 

One Of His Iconic Symphonies Is The Shortest 

Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90: III. Poco allegretto

One of his most iconic symphonies was Symphony No. 3, and while it’s one of his most popular and beloved out of his four, it’s also the shortest.

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Johannes Brahms Is Known For His Melodies 

What’s different about Brahms is that he is most well-known for being a genius when it comes to melodies. There was a feeling of wholeness and refinement in his melodies such as in Lullaby, and you can feel that melody in your heart. His melodies were catchy and just mesmerizing, even to other gifted composers and piano players such as Robert Schumann. 

Johannes Brahms Never Got Married And Had Issues With Showing Emotion 

While Brahms was a gifted composer and musician who put his feelings into each symphony and composition, the same wasn’t true with verbally communicating his feelings. He could never express his feelings out loud, which might be why he was never married and had issues when it came to relationships. He knew that he was incapable of showing emotion and empathy and even wrote a letter talking about how he knew he’d never be a good partner. 

He Was Known For Being A Perfectionist 

May 3, 2014 – Perfectionist craftsmanship. Image source: Perfectionist craftsmanship by Flying Stag, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brahms was known to be a perfectionist, and this started when he was a young child and would continue well into adulthood. In fact, he was hard on himself and would constantly go back and change parts of compositions until he was satisfied. 

It Took 22 Years For His First Symphony To Premier 

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68: I. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro

As an example of how much of a perfectionist Brahms was, it took about 22 years for him to premier his first symphony, which is Symphony No. 1, which was released in 1876. He began the composition in 1854, but he would go back and continue editing it over time because he wasn’t happy with it yet. 

His Composition German Requiem Took 12 Years To Finish 

German Requiem was one of several compositions that Brahms is known for, but what’s notable about this one is that it took him 12 years to finish it. Not only did this take over a decade to complete, but it also has seven different movements in it and is around 80 minutes long, which made it the longest of all of his compositions.  

German Requiem Is His Signature Composition And Brought Him Fame 

Sticking with German Requiem for a minute, this composition is one of his most well-known works, and it’s thought to be his signature composition. This is what brought him fame and got him recognized since it’s one of the most idyllic compositions from the Romantic era. 

Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) , Op. 45: I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen

Additionally, German Requiem is thought to be about Robert Schumann, who had passed away and was his friend and mentor. Through the 12 years it took him to complete this composition, his mother also died, so there is a lot of loss and pain behind it. 

Piano Concerto No. 1 Was About Robert Schumann’s Attempted Suicide 

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 - I. Maestoso

As we mentioned, Brahms was not good at expressing his feelings and thoughts outside of music, so it made sense that he would convey his feelings over Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt through music. Multiple friends of his at the time verified that Piano Concerto No. 1 was about Schumann’s attempted suicide, and that’s why it’s such a powerful and moving performance. When you listen to this, you can hear the isolation and loneliness in it, including how the piano sounds throughout the concerto. 

He Is One Of The Three “B’s” 

Early 1800s – Ludwig van Beethoven with a lyre-guitar. Image source: Joseph Willibrord Mähler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You probably know of Ludwig Van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach, but Brahms is known as the third “B” and was right up there with them in terms of popularity, fame, and importance. However, he never felt he was as good as Beethoven, which could be his desire for perfection coming into play. 

Johannes Brahms Loved The Outdoors 

April 22, 2012 – Hills in Castellarano, Reggio Emilia, Italy. Image source: Giorgio Galeotti, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even though Brahms was often touring and performing, he loved spending time outside with nature. He would take trips and walk around Italy, going up and down all of the beautiful hills, and he found peace while out and about on trails. Being alone on these walks and hikes was also useful because it would give him the inspiration to write new material. 

He Founded A Women’s Choir 

Brahms established and even composed music for a women’s choir while he was in Hamburg, Germany. He also conducted the women’s choir and was a mentor and inspiration to the women who were a part of the choir. 

The Extent Of His And Clara Schumann’s Relationship Remains Unknown 

When Robert Schumann died, Brahms and Clara Schumann became very close, but to this day, no one knows just how close those two were. He was there to comfort her in her times of grief and sorrow and even lived close to her. However, the letters that we mentioned that were written to her and her letters to him were mostly destroyed.

March 29, 2009 – Quill pen. Image source: Skydude176 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This could indicate a desire to hide something or could be just because they were famous and didn’t want their personal lives broadcast publicly. No one really knows what their relationship was since there was both a very personal and professional aspect, but speculation is that they became more than friends. 

He Loved To Read And Had An Introverted Personality 

Brahms loved to read and would often read German poems, with the ability to recite a lot of the ones he read through memory alone. His personality was very subdued and was thought of as more of an introvert since he was not one to enjoy being around a lot of people. He could be moody, grumpy, or sarcastic at times with a hard exterior, which is partially due to his inability to convey his emotions verbally. 

He Often Let His Appearance Go To Focus On Composing

1975 to 1989 – Suspenders by Dolf Henkes. Image source: Museum Rotterdam, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A funny fact about Brahms, he would get so wrapped up in his compositions and work that he would even forget simple things, such as putting his suspenders on. This would lead to him having to hold his pants up with one hand while performing to keep them on. 

Johannes Brahms Lived Modestly And Was Charitable 

Even though Brahms was a famous German composer and pianist, he lived modestly and did not throw away his money. A lot of his money was donated to charity and also to other musicians through anonymous means. His friends would say he was loyal and very generous with his money and would often help out those in need, including helping people within his family. 

It Took Years For Piano Concerto No. 1 To Become Popular 

Piano Concerto No. 1 was an emotional piece about the attempted suicide of Robert Schumann as we already talked about, and this was not what the audience had in mind when they attended performances of it. This was a very emotional and long concerto, so it wasn’t flashy or anything, and audiences seemed to not know what to make of it.

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 - I. Maestoso - Poco più moderato

Since expectations were different from reality, it took years for it to become famous and beloved by audiences. It’s thought to be one of his most powerful and emotional pieces because of the personal nature of it. 

He Was 57 When He Retired From Composing

Clarinet Sonata in F Minor, Op. 120, No. 1: I. Allegro appassionato

Brahms retired from producing compositions when he was 57 years old but that didn’t stop him from being creative in other ways. It was at that time that he started focusing more on the clarinet and would go on to produce sonatas and other things for the clarinet as he got older. 

Johannes Brahms Died Of Cancer 

May 3, 2017 – Johannes Brahms grave at Wiener Zentralfriedhof. Image source: Loco Steve from Bromley , UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, Brahms would become ill with either liver or pancreatic cancer in late 1896 and passed away on April 3, 1897. He was only 63 years old when he died, and you can find his grave if you go to Vienna and visit the Zentralfriedhof. 

Johannes Brahms Has Several Famous Compositions 

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

While certain compositions stand out, Brahms was a gifted musician and composer who has more than one famous work that is admired even today. For example, he composed Double Concertos for both the cello and violin. There is Lullaby and other famous works including the Academic Festival Overture that are thought of as some of the best pieces of the Romantic era. 

He’s In The German Hall Of Fame 

August 29, 2005 – Walhalla interior with bust of Johannes Brahms (lower right). Image source: Jacquesverlaeken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He was such a gifted and talented composer that without a doubt he got into the German Hall of Fame. There is a bust of Brahms at the Walhalla Memorial that was created by Milan Knobloch in 2000.

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