Late Romanticism in Germany and Austria
Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany
Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria
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In his own words....
"It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table."
German composer. Brahms created a style that blended the lyrical and intellectual and served as a contrast to the progressive style of the New German School.
Johannes Brahms grew up surrounded by a practical world of music. His father was a double bass player, and Brahms took early lessons in piano, theory, and composition. As a teenager, he gained intimate familiarity with serious and popular styles, arranging music for his father's orchestra and playing piano in local dance halls. At twenty he began touring as an accompanist and began to make important contacts. Among these were Robert and Clara Schumann, both of whom had a lasting effect on his life and career. Robert, in his role as a critic, first brought Brahms' name to the notice of the German public, calling him a "young eagle." Clara became an emotional focus for Brahms, one that would last throughout his life.
Brahms spent many years working as a conductor and pianist, hoping for a prestigious appointment that never materialized. He did, however, serve two years as director of the Berlin Singakademie. In 1868 he settled in Vienna, where he would remain for the rest of his life. He soon composed two works that assured him both fame and financial security: the German Requiem (premiered in 1869) and his orchestral Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873). With this success behind him, he finally finished his first attempt at a symphony. The work was premiered in 1876 to great acclaim, and Brahms was hailed as the true successor of Beethoven. This was followed by three other symphonies, all of which have become standards of repertory, along with a large body of important works in virtually every genre (except for opera, which, like marriage, he consciously avoided throughout his life).
In 1890, at the age of fifty-seven, Brahms announced his retirement from composition. He was coaxed out of retirement by the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld, for whom Brahms wrote some of his last (and greatest) chamber works. Brahms died of cancer in 1897, not long after the death of his one love and close friend, Clara Schumann.
Brahms is an important figure in German music, standing almost as a rock of classicism in the onrushing stream of the new styles created by Wagner, Liszt, and others. His music is unshakably absolute, never drawing on extramusical images or ideas. His study of the music of earlier composers, including those of the Renaissance, added to the more conservative elements of his music. He often turned to older forms of expression, most notably that of variation. At the same time, his music has a strong personal aspect to it. His German Requiem , for example, is neither a sectarian religious work, nor a dramatic stage work (as was Berlioz's). Rather, it is a response to the subject of death, freely drawing passages from the Bible to create a piece that is both personal and national. All these qualities combine to make Brahms one of the truly distinctive voices of the late nineteenth century.
- Orchestral music, including 4 symphonies (1867, 1877, 1883, 1884?85); Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873); 2 overtures ( Academic Festival , 1880; Tragic , 1886); 4 concertos (2 for piano, 1858, 1881; 1 for violin, 1878; 1 double concerto for violin and cello, 1887)
- Chamber music, including string quartets, quintets, sextets; piano trios, quartets, and 1 quintet; 1 clarinet quintet; sonatas (violin, cello, clarinet/viola)
- Piano music, including sonatas, character pieces, dances, and variation sets (on a theme by Handel, 1861; on a theme by Paganini, 1862?63)
- Choral music, including A German Requiem (1868), Alto Rhapsody (1869), and part songs
- Lieder, including Vergebliches Ständchen ( Futile Serenade , 1881), Four Serious Songs (1896), and folk song arrangements
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- A Basic Biography
The Classical Music Pages site contains a biography of Brahms from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music , along with a works list; a discussion of his symphonies, concertos, piano music, chamber music, and A German Requiem (all with sound clips); and an image gallery.
- Brahms at the Piano
In 1879, Johannes Brahms recorded some short excerpts using Thomas Edison's cylinder recording system. These have long frustrated scholars because their possible musicological value is equaled only by their terrible sound quality. This site documents the attempts of scholars at The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford to recover the sounds hidden behind all the noise.
Born: June 11, 1864, Munich, Germany
Died: September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
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German composer and conductor. Strauss wrote in nearly every genre, but is best known for his tone poems and operas.
Richard Strauss was the most clearly programmatic composer of the nineteenth century, and he used the freedoms of musical pictorialism to create sounds that bring us into the twentieth century. While many of his works have classical underpinnings, they are driven by descriptive techniques. Strauss exploits these to create musical representations ranging from bleating sheep to the transfiguration of the human soul.
Strauss was composing by the age of six, having received basic instruction from his father, a virtuoso horn player. This was, however, his only formal training. The elder Strauss instilled in his son a love of the classical composers, and his early works follow in their path. Strauss' first symphony premiered when he was seventeen, his second (in New York) when he was twenty. By that time, Strauss had directed his energies toward conducting, and in 1885 he succeeded Hans von Bülow as conductor of the orchestra in Meiningen. For the next forty years, he conducted orchestras in Munich, Weimar, Berlin, and Vienna.
As a conductor, Strauss had a unique vantage point from which to study the workings of the orchestra. From this vantage point he developed a sense for orchestration that was unrivaled. He immediately put this sense to use in a series of orchestral pieces that he called "tone poems," including Macbeth (1888), Don Juan (1888–89), Tod und Verklärung (1889), Till Eulenspeigels lustige Streiche (1895), and Don Quixote (1897). These works are intensely programmatic, and in the last two Strauss elevated descriptive music to a level not approached since the techniques of text painting during the Renaissance. He also used his knowledge of orchestral techniques to produce a revised version of Hector Berlioz's important orchestration treatise; this edition remains a standard to this day.
After the turn of the century, Strauss began to shift his focus to opera. With his principal librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, he created two forward-looking and shocking works: Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's controversial play, and Elektra, Hoffmannsthal's version of the classical Greek tragedy. In these works, the intense emotions and often lurid narrative elicited a more daring and demanding musical language full of extreme chromaticism and harsh timbres. But with his next opera, Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss seems to have left this aside, turning to a more focused, almost neoclassical approach in his later works. With this, Strauss settled into a comfortable place in German musical society, perhaps too comfortable, given his willingness to acquiesce to the artistic maneuverings of the rising Nazi regime. In the end, he broke with the Nazis on moral grounds, and died virtually penniless in the aftermath of the Second World War.
- Orchestral music: symphonic poems, including Macbeth (1888),
Don Juan (1888–89), Tod und Verklärung (Death and
Transfiguration, 1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
(Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, 1895), Also sprach Zarathustra
(Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), Don Quixote (1897), and
Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life, 1898); 2 symphonies
(Domestic, 1903; Alpine, 1915); 3 concertos (2 for horn, 1 for oboe)
- 15 operas, including Salome (1905), Elektra (1909),
Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose, 1911), Ariadne auf
Naxos (1912), and Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman, 1935)
- Choral works, with and without orchestra; chamber works
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- A Basic Biography
This site, from the Classical Music Pages, provides a biographical essay taken from The Grove Concise
Dictionary of Music. It also includes a picture gallery and information on Strauss' works.
- A More Detailed Biography
A site maintained by Arizona Opera. A lengthy biography, along with information about the company's productions of two of Strauss' operas: Salome and Ariadne auf Naxos.
- Life and Works
The English Classical CD On Line site includes a brief biography and overviews (with audio clips) of Salome and Also sprach
- A List of Works
A detailed list of Strauss' works. Linked to a detailed discography and bibliography for the composer.
Planned as a "clearing house" for information about Strauss, his music, and current performances. Still under construction, but already contains useful material.
- The Richard Strauss Page
A starting place for further online exploration.