Johannes Brahms: From Humble Beginning To Master

« previous episode | next episode »

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On this edition of The Romantic Piano, David Dubal features part one of two episodes devoted to Johannes Brahms, one of the piano’s great masters.

Brahms was born May 7, 1833 and grew up in an unhappy family circumstance in Hamburg. Pressed for money, his family was also challenged by the alcoholism of Brahms' father. By adolescence, he was forced to help the family make a livelihood. At a very early age Brahms displayed a remarkable gift for music and after two years with his first music teacher, he was sent to study with Hamburg’s finest music teacher who quickly felt that the youngster was a born composer. He gave Brahms the most extensive theoretical grounding, forging the foundation for Brahms’s later extraordinary discipline and his endless curiosity about music past and present. In fact, one may call Brahms the world’s first true musicologist.

Brahms, like Beethoven, would eventually gravitate to Vienna and the spirit of the waltz was always with him. He wrote sixteen waltzes, more in the spirit of Schubert, though instead of Johann Strauss.

By 18, the precocious Brahms had written over one hundred works, all assigned to the fire, except two early piano sonatas and a scherzo, which he played for Clara and Robert Schumann when he visited them in 1853 in Dusseldorf. Schumann and Clara were both dumbfounded by his energy and his genius. Robert Schumann was on the edge of his mental sanity, but was able to write his first critical article in years calling Brahms "the great hope of German music." Indeed Schumann was right, as it was Brahms who held tight to the forms developed from Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He held steady to the classic forms in the midst of Liszt's and Wagner's vision of the future of music.

Brahms himself was an important pianist. Not only did he play all of his solo piano music and chamber works in public, but he had a wide repertoire from Bach to Schumann. Of his large output, the piano figures in mostly all of his music. It is also interesting to note that with his critical stringency, every work Brahms ever composed is perfect of its kind, and everything he composed is in the international repertoire.


Intermezzo for Piano, Op. 117 No. 2 in B flat minor / Wilhelm Kempff

Fugue for Piano in B flat Major on a theme by Handel, Op. 24 / Solomon

Waltz for Piano, Op. 39 No. 1 / Maria Grinberg

Sonata for Piano no 3 in F minor, Op. 5 / Julius Katchen

Waltz for Piano, Op. 39 No. 15 / Byron Janis

Rhapsody for Piano, Op. 79: No. 2 in G minor / Frank Levy

Intermezzo in C major, Op. 119, No. 3 / Myra Hess

Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: No. 5, Romance in F Major / Artur Rubinstein

Ballade for Piano, Op. 10 No. 3 in B minor / Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli

Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 119: No. 4, Rhapsody in E Flat Major / Van Cliburn

Hungarian Dances (10) for Piano solo No. 5 / Julius Katchen

Comments [4]

Jonella from Boondox of Sullivan County, NY

I love these programs so much!
(At the moment I'm frustrated because there's a tech sign blocking my view of the playlist from tonight's program - Sunday, March 16th - wherein you played a Brahms piece that my mother used to play on the piano when she was waiting for us to come downstairs to go to dance lessons or the dentist or whatever - and I wanted very much to know what the piece is - but I can't read it because there's this tech sign about the internet blocking my view!... I believe it's my computer which is a bit bonkers these days...)

Mar. 16 2014 11:42 PM
Harry from Howard Beach

My comments below to Kenneth Bennett Lane stand out of context, since his where somehow deleted from this page.
His musical knowledge and enthusiasm where not questioned, its his bragging concerning his Helden tenor abilities and commercialisms while plugging his "concerts" that were boring and repetitious. (I am still puzzled how comments can be omitted after they are made). Mr.Lane please continue your informative essays without bragging.

Jun. 21 2013 06:12 PM
Harry from Howard Beach, New York

Kenneth Bennett Lane , stop bragging, you are quite boring.

Jun. 16 2013 05:52 PM
Peter Olson from 35660

It's tempting to refute the claim that "one may call Brahms the World's first true musicologist." See:

Jun. 13 2013 08:25 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.