Johannes Brahms was one of the most influential composers of the Romantic era. He wrote symphonies, concertos, chamber music, piano works, choral compositions, and songs. He was also a virtuoso pianist and a music director. Here are seven facts about his life that you may not know.
- He was a child prodigy. Brahms began playing the piano at the age of seven and composing at the age of 11. He studied with Otto Cossel and Eduard Marxsen, who were impressed by his talent. He also performed in public concerts and sent some of his compositions to Robert Schumann for feedback.
- He helped support his family by playing in brothels. Brahms came from a poor family and his father was a musician who struggled to find work. Brahms used his musical skills to earn money by playing the piano in dance halls, brothels, inns, taverns, and along city docks. This was a fact that early biographers often omitted from his life story.
- He became good friends with Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann. Brahms met the famous composer Robert Schumann and his wife Clara, who was also a composer and a pianist, in 1853. Schumann praised Brahms as the successor of Beethoven and wrote an article about him in a music journal. Brahms became close to the Schumanns and helped Clara when Robert was hospitalized for mental illness. He also dedicated some of his works to them.
- He was very self-critical and destroyed many of his works. Brahms had high standards for himself and was not satisfied with many of his compositions. He spent years working on his first symphony before letting it be performed, fearing that people would compare him to Beethoven. He also burned many of his manuscripts and sketches that he thought were not good enough.
- He was involved in a musical feud known as the War of the Romantics. Brahms represented the conservative side of the Romantic movement, which valued classical forms and structures. He was opposed by the New German School, which advocated for more radical and innovative approaches to music. The New German School was led by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, who criticized Brahms for being old-fashioned and boring.
- He wrote a famous lullaby based on a folk song. Brahms composed his Lullaby (Wiegenlied) in 1868 as a gift for his friend Bertha Faber, who had just given birth to her second son. The melody of the lullaby is based on a German folk song that Brahms had heard from his mother when he was a child. The lullaby is one of his most popular and beloved works.
- He died of liver cancer at the age of 63. Brahms suffered from various health problems in his later years, including rheumatism, pneumonia, and jaundice. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1896 and died on April 3, 1897, in Vienna. He was buried next to Beethoven and Schubert in the Central Cemetery.