Johannes Brahms, 1853
Johannes Brahms, 1853
"Visit from Brahms. A genius!" wrote Robert Schumann in the most beloved diary he shared with his wife Clara. This burst of enthusiasm had a great impact on Brahms: not only did this line throw him instantly into Romanticism – the dying Schumann passing on his heritage – but he also carried his memory throughout his life, giving recognition to his work, caring for Schumann's widow and children... However he was musically raised in Viennese cabarets, playing the piano accompanying his father on the violin. His genius finally led him to meet Liszt, then Schumann. He was soon able to become one of the greatest ambassadors for German music, mixing a popular background and classic harmony tradition in the most haunting melodies written in the 19th century. Pathetic, feverish, amorous... Brahms' music seems to explore and unveil the core of human emotions. This may be a reason why it still speaks to the heart. Explore our playlist, sing along, shiver accordingly, you can't be unmoved! 

Hungarian Dance no. 1 in G minor

Here is one of the most famous Hungarian Dance – the First – performed by Gustavo Dudamel and the GSO. Fiercely tzigane, this dance does not involve any nationalism from Brahms: the composer takes from Hungarian folk music the dynamism of its rhythm, expressive melodies, simply for the musical potential. The success of the dances, first in Viennese cabarets where it was premiered on four-hand piano, has never failed. 

Symphony no. 4 in E minor, op.98

Any orchestra tackles Brahms' symphonies with immense respect: flattering every section of the orchestra, each of the four symphonies are references of their kind. Trying to embody all of them, we chose the last movement of the Fourth, played by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Phil, a vast variation on the initial passacaglia theme. 

Trio for violin, horn and piano in E flat major, op.40

Brahms gathered three instruments he played in his youth for the Trio in E flat major, Op.40: the violin, the horn and the piano. Inspired by forest landscapes, it is even more reminiscent of his early years as his mother died when he was composing it. The inner suffering of the third movement, like a funeral march, is heartbreaking (from 15'05" in the recording). Here it is played on period intruments with Isabelle Faust, Teunis van der Zwart and Alexander Melnikov.

Von ewiger Liebe (Of Everlasting Love), op.43 no. 1

Brahms consciously made the choice not to compose any opera – the everlasting dream of German composers – advocating "pure music" instead of programmatic one. However his vocal works are abundant, including more than 200 Lieder. We asked Clémence Faber, one of our French reviewers studying singing at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, to name her favourite Lied.

"What I like in Von ewiger Liebe is the way of giving a musical identity to every character – very much in Schubert manner. There is some reminiscence of Erlkönig in it. The narrator sets the scene sotto voce as if he was about to tale a story... We are then fully in the mood of Sturm und Drang, filled with "the theory of passions". I don't have Edda Moser's voice yet, patience!"

String Sextet no. 1 in B flat major, op.18

Brahms did not know he would have had an open career in cinema. The staggering Andante from the String Sextet no. 1 in B flat major, Op.18 is the soundtrack of Louis Malle's movie Les Amants (1957) featuring Jeanne Moreau in a passionate love story.

Poco allegretto - Symphony no. 3 in F major, op.90

Georges Auric composed part of the soundtrack of Anatole Litvak's movie Goodbye Again (1961) on Brahms Symphony no. 3. Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is invited by Simon (Anthony Perkins) to a concert of Brahms music where she gives in to the young man's advances despite her relationship with Roger (Yves Montand). The famous title of Françoise Sagan's novel whom it is based upon, Aimez-vous Brahms ?, settles Brahms as the composer of... love. 

 

In the battle of the birthday boys, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, cast your vote for the first one by tweeting or adding a Facebook ‘like’.