( Originally Published 1906 )
JOHANNES BRAHMS, one of the most eminent of living German composers, was born at Hamburg, May 7, 1833. His father was a double-bass player in the orchestra in that city, and devoted his son at a very early age to his own profession. His first piano teacher was Cossell; but to Eduard Marxsen, the Royal Music Director, he owes his real success as a composer. Brahms remained in Hamburg until 1853, when he went upon a concert-tour with Reményl, the eccentric and somewhat sensational Hungarian, who has been a familiar figure upon the American concert-stage. He remained with him, however, but a very short time, for in October of that year they parted company. Brahms had attracted the notice of Liszt and Joachim ; and it may have been through their ad.. v ice that the musical partnership was dissolved. In any event, soon after leaving Reményi he went to Dusseldorf and visited Schumann. It was the latter who announced him to the world in such strong words as these : -
"In following with the greatest interest the, paths of these elect [Joachim, Naumann, Norman, Bargiel, Kirchner, Schaffer, Dietrich, and Wilsing], I thought that after such forerunners there would, and must at last, all on a sudden appear one whose mission it would be to utter the highest expression of his time in an ideal manner, — one who would attain mastery, not by degrees, but, like Minerva, would at once spring completely armed from the head of Cronion. May the highest genius give him strength for that of which there is hope, as in him dwells also another genius, that of modesty ! We bid him welcome as a strong champion."
The next year (1854) appeared his first works, three sonatas, a trio, scherzo for piano, and three books of songs. After a visit to Liszt at Weimar, he settled down as chorus-conductor and music-teacher at the court of Lippe-Detmold, where he remained a few years. During this period he devoted himself assiduously to composition. After leaving -Detrnold, he successively resided in Hamburg, Zürich, and Baden-Baden, though most of his time has been spent in Vienna, where he has directed the Singakademie and the concerts of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Schumann's prophecy has been made good ; Brahms is to-day one of the most eminent of living musicians. Among his most famous compositions are a Funeral Hymn for chorus and wind-band ; the " German Requiem ; " `° Triumphlied,'' for double-chorus and orchestra; "Schicksallied," for chorus and orchestra; five symphonies; variations on a theme of Haydn, for orchestra; the Tragic and Academic overtures ; and several trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, concertos, and sonatas.
The German Requiem
The "German Requiem," so called, is not a requiem in its sentiment, nor in any sense a religious service. The poem is full of consolation for the mourner, of assurances of joy hereafter, of warnings against the pomps and vanities of the world, and closes with the victory of the saints over death and the grave. It might with more propriety be called " a sacred cantata:" The work has seven numbers,—two baritone solos and chorus, soprano solo and chorus, and four separate choruses. It was first performed at Bremen on Good Friday, r868, and in 1873 was first heard in England. It was also given at the Cincinnati festival of 1884, under Mr. Thomas's direction.
The opening chorus (" Blessed are they that go mourning") is beautifully written, and is particularly noticeable for the richness of its accompaniment. In the Funeral March, which follows, a very graphic resemblance to the measured tread of the cortège is accomplished by the use of triple time. In this, as well as in numerous other instances, the composer cuts loose from ordinary methods, and in pure classical form and by the use of legitimate musical processes achieves what others seek to effect by sensuous or purely imitative music. The third number (" Lord, make me to know the Measure of my Days on Earth ") opens with a baritone solo, followed by two choral fugues, which are solidly constructed, though they are extremely difficult to sing, and call for a chorus of unusual discipline and intelligence. The fourth, for chorus (" How lovely is Thy Dwelling-place, O Lord of Hosts "), is in striking contrast with its predecessor, being a slow movement, and very melodious in style. The fifth (" Ye now are sorrowful, grieve not "), for soprano solo and chorus, shows the composer's unusual power as a song-writer, as well as his melodious attractiveness when melody answers his purpose. In the next number, set for chorus with baritone solo responses (" Here on Earth we have no continuing Place, we seek now a heavenly one "), the character of the music changes again, and the resurrection of the dead is pictured in fugal passages of tremendous power and difficulty. After the storm comes the calm again in the finale (" Blessed are the Faithful who in the Lord are sleeping "), which contains a reminiscence of the opening number, and closes the work in a gentle, but deeply serious strain. It was the " German Requiem " which first made Brahms famous ; it confirmed all that Schumann had said of him. Its great difficulties require an extraordinary chorus and orchestra ; but when these can be had, the power and beauty of the work will always be conceded.