Johannes Brahms was one of the most prolific musicians in the history of western music. He was extremely influential in his highly disciplined, rich compositional style and has been a source of inspiration for generations of composers and performers.
Brahms was born in 1833 in Hamburg to a town musician and a seamstress. In his youth, due to his family’s poverty, he contributed to the household income by playing piano at dance halls and giving public piano recitals, eventually finding recognition at the age of nineteen when he made a concert tour.
At the age of 20, Brahms met Robert and Clara Schumann who were very impressed with his playing technique. Clara wrote in her diary that ‘…what he played to us is so masterly that one cannot but think that the good God sent him into the world ready-made. He has a great future before him, for he will first find the true field for his genius when he begins to write for the orchestra.’ Brahms began to compose early in life but destroyed most copies of his early works. He was an extreme perfectionist and was known to have destroyed 20 string quartets before introducing in public his first string quartet at age of 40.
Brahms’s early compositions were dominated by the piano. His first set of piano pieces, op. 1, op. 2, op. 4 and op. 5, composed between 1851 and 1853 show a strong poetic affinity, large-scale structures, a flair for thematic transformation and Beethoven-like motivic development. The slow movements of these piano works are effectively songs without words, reflecting the folk themes seen in Brahms earlier songs.