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Brahms: Composer who succeeded Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven Photo Credit: music2020 www.flickr.com

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is widely accepted as the greatest creative genius of classical music, whose gigantic shadow dominated the 19th century. It was a hard act to follow.

The challenge for the next generation of composers was to write music in a style that would also be worthy of great adulation and universal acceptance. The succeeding composers branched out along different paths in searching for ways to establish themselves as original and imaginative scholars. The man who would eventually become known as the heir to Beethoven's reputation was Johannes Brahms.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was the unrivaled master of beautiful melodies, writing over 600 heartfelt lieder and, among other works, the famous Trout Quintet which uses the unusual combination of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. His short life (31 years) was dominated by Beethoven's presence.

Hector Berlioz (1803 –1869) wrote dramatic expressive music in great variety. As an orchestrator he found subtle ways to combine and contrast instruments effectively. His most popular work remains the Symphonie Fantastique - An Episode in the Life of an Artist wherein he expressed his love for an Irish actress, Harriet Smithson.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 –1847) chose a different, more graceful, romantic style which embraced both fantasy and formalism. His youthful overture A Midsummer's Night's Dream and his later oratorio, Elijah, both reflect Victorian sentimentality at its best.

Robert Schumann (1810 –1856) lived in a dream world of fantasy and translated his thoughts and feelings mainly into romantic songs and piano works. He also edited and published a music journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

Franz Liszt (1811–1886) enjoyed outstanding success as a brilliant concert pianist with a stage presence equal to that of today's pop-stars. In his later years he chose a religious life and composed music more appropriate to his new image.

Richard Wagner (1813 –1883) was a revolutionary in many ways. Musically he contributed to the development of harmony and musical drama using leitmotivs with melodic lines for different situations which acted as aide-memoires throughout the compositions.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Schumann, in his journal, printed an article entitled Neuer Bahnen (New Paths) in which he predicted that the 20-year-old Brahms would become the next great composer, like Beethoven. The young Brahms was an extreme perfectionist, unmoved by all the musical changes around him. For his own works Brahms preferred an art that was pure, objective and above everything else, classical and lyrical; this combination resulted in the blending of the classical and romantic styles. 


                                                                                                               IF     

                      A Portrait of Johannes Brahms

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and changing direction.

If you can trust yourself when all men are seeking a new tune

And make allowances for their dreams.

If you can compose and not be tired of classical order and repetitious themes.

If you can remain orderly, lyrical, conservative and romantic

When all about you are explosive, dynamic and violently dramatic.

If you can write lieder, piano music, chamber music and orchestral works in perfect harmony

When all around you hear the breakdown of classical tonality,

Then you will be a great musician, my man, and all the world will applaud you.

By Barbara Blum

 

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