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Johannes Brahms


It is not enough to say that Johannes Brahms held Beethoven in great respect, admiration and affection. He was in awe and was thoroughly intimidated by him, so much so that for almost twenty years he could not bring himself to write his first symphony. Yet Brahms did eventually write a symphony which, in the words of a leading musical figure of the day, "is good enough to be Beethoven's tenth!" 

Born in 1833 in the slums of Hamburg, the young boy was a musical prodigy who almost came to America to tour as a wunderkind. At thirteen to augment the family's meager income, the boy played piano in seamy dockside taverns and was traumatized by the experience. At twenty, he jumped at the chance to join with an émigré Hungarian violinist and travel on a modest concert tour. 

In the fall of 1853 Johannes Brahms met two of Europe's greatest musicians, Robert and Clara Schumann. Robert even wrote an article proclaiming Brahms as the outstanding representative of the younger generation for whom the music world was waiting. But in February of 1854 Robert suffered a mental breakdown. Johannes rushed to help Clara, gradually falling in love with her, even though she was fourteen years older and the wife of his greatest champion. Robert died in 1856, and Brahms' love and friendship with Clara was the deepest emotional bond of his life. 

With the success of his Symphony No. 1, Johannes Brahms was inducted into the fraternity known as the "Three Bs " - Bach, Beethoven and the child from the slums, Brahms. He had a life-long love for Gypsy music, reflected in his Hungarian Dances. His career was not a steady process of evolution as was Beethoven's. In this respect he was one of music's mysteries in "arriving fully armed, like Athena from the head of Zeus", as Schumann observed in that now famous article of 1853. Johannes Brahms died in 1897 and was buried in the same Vienna cemetery as his heroes - Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven.

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