[brahmz; Ger. brahms]
Brahms, Johannes, 1833-97, German composer, b. Hamburg. Brahms ranks among the greatest masters of the romantic period. The son of a musician, he early showed astonishing talent in many directions; he chose as a boy to become a pianist. As accompanist to the violinist Eduard Reményi he attracted the notice of Johann Joachim, who introduced him to leading musical circles. Brahms became the devoted friend of Robert and Clara Schumann, both of whom admired his compositions. His later activities as pianist and as choral conductor were not very successful, but after he settled in Vienna his compositions brought him enough money to support himself in simple comfort. Brahms never married, although he had several love affairs and remained deeply attached to Clara Schumann for years after her husband's death.

In his music the romantic impulse is restrained by a reverence for the forms of the past. This blend of romantic feeling and classical spirit is exemplified in such works as his Variations on a Theme by Handel (1861), for piano, and the orchestral composition Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873). In his day, Brahms's conservative romanticism was contrasted with Richard Wagner's dramatic romantic style, and a controversy raged between supporters of Brahms and the followers of the "neo-German" school led by Liszt and Wagner. His extreme self-criticism led him to destroy much of what he composed, limiting the number of his existing works but ensuring a uniformly high quality.

Brahms wrote four symphonies, which are considered among the greatest in symphonic music. Major choral works include Ein deutsches Requiem [a German requiem] (1866) and Schicksalslied [song of destiny] (1868), both for chorus and orchestra. The Violin Concerto in D (1878), the Piano Concerto in B Flat (1878-81), and the Piano Quintet in F Minor (1864) are staples of the concert repertory. Brahms also composed sonatas, capriccios, intermezzos—works in almost every genre except opera. Throughout his life he devoted attention to chamber music and songs, which vary from simple accompaniments for folk songs to solemn compositions such as Vier ernste Gesange [four serious songs] (1896). Many of his exquisite romantic lieder, in which the words, melody, and piano accompaniment are inseparably blended, are favorites among singers, and his lullaby has long been a familiar melody throughout the world.

See his letters, ed. by M. Kalbeck (1909), Life and Letters (1997), S. Avins, ed.; biographies by H. Gal (tr. 1963, repr. 1977), K. Geiringer (3d ed. 1981), and J. Swafford (1997); studies by B. James (1972) and G. S. Bozarth (1989).

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major Op. 83 by Johannes Brahms is separated by a gap of 22 years from his first piano concerto. Brahms began it in 1878 and completed the piece in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. It is dedicated to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen.


The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (B-flat), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (2 B-flat bass, 2 F bass), 2 trumpets (B-flat), timpani (B-flat and F), and strings.

The piece is in four movements, rather than the three typical of concertos in the Classical and Romantic periods:

  1. Allegro non troppo (B-flat major)
  2. Allegro appassionato (D minor)
  3. Andante (B-flat major/F-sharp major)
  4. Allegretto grazioso (B-flat major)

The additional movement results in a concerto considerably lengthier than most other concertos written up to that time. Upon its completion, Brahms sent its score to his friend, the surgeon and violinist Theodore Billroth to whom Brahms had dedicated his first two string quartets, describing the work as "some little piano pieces." ( Brahms even described the stormy and impassioned scherzo as a "little wisp of a scherzo."

The premiere of this concerto was given in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist, and was an immediate and great success. He proceeded to perform the piece in many cities across Europe. (


Allegro non troppo

The first movement is in the concerto variant of sonata form. The main theme is introduced with a horn solo, with the piano interceding. The woodwind instruments proceed to introduce a small motive before an unusually placed cadenza appears. The full orchestra repeats the theme and introduces more motives in the orchestral exposition. The piano and orchestra work together to develop these themes in the piano exposition before the key changes to F Minor (from F Major, the dominant) and the piano plays a powerful and difficult section before the next orchestral tutti appears. The development, like many such sections in the Classical period, works its way from the dominant key back to the tonic while heavily developing themes. At the beginning of the recapitulation, the theme is replayed before a differing transition is heard, returning to the music heard in the piano exposition (this time in B-flat Major / B-flat Minor). A coda appears after the minor key section, finishing off this movement.

Allegro appassionato

This scherzo is in the key of D Minor and is in ternary form. Contrary to Brahms's "tiny wisp of a scherzo" remark, it is a tumultuous movement. The piano and orchestra introduce the theme and develop it before a quiet section intervenes. Soon afterwards the piano and orchestra launch into a stormy development of the theme before coming to the central episode (in D major). The central episode is brisk and begins with the full orchestra before yet another quiet section intervenes; then the piano is integrated into the orchestral effect to repeat the theme of the central episode. The beginning section returns but is highly varied.


The slow movement is in the tonic key of B-flat Major and is unusual in that it utilizes a cello solo. Brahms rewrote the cello's theme and changed into a song, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer. This movement is clearly similar to chamber music.

Allegretto grazioso

The concluding movement is in sonata-rondo form, opening with an elegant theme. The second section is not in the typical dominant key (F Major) but is in A Minor, which is the leading tone. Again, the piano is integrated into the orchestral effect. The theme returns but is slowly dissolved into the central episode, where the solo displays more virtuosity. The main theme returns again, and soon after the first half of the rondo is played again before a coda concludes this massive work.

Notable Interpretations


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