A few weeks ago, I discussed the life and accomplishments of Beethoven on the anniversary of his death. Today is the anniversary of the death of another composer who, while perhaps not as well known as Beethoven, is still famous in his own right and is still important today. One April 3rd, 1897, Johannes Brahms died. Brahms was a German composer and conductor in the Romantic period of music. This period lasted from the late 18th to the 19th centuries, and Brahms’s life, he was born in 1833, spanned the majority of it. While Brahms is generally considered to be a traditionalist and his music based on standard classical roots, he is still recognized to be the basis for the work of many later composers and so contributed to the development of classical music. Brahms was born in Hamburg and received musical instruction first from his father. He studied the piano and composition with several teachers and in 1848 first performed in public. Over time, he composed more and more pieces and became a prominent figure in the musical world. His first symphony, Op. 68, came out in 1876 and he followed it up with a second symphony soon after along with concertos and Quartets. Brahms received many awards, including the Maximilian Award for Science and Art from the King of Bavaria. It is at this time that some quirks of Brahms’s personality become evident. He was an extreme perfectionist. He destroyed several of his own works that he felt were imperfect, and even his First Symphony, Op. 68, which was started in the 1860s was so heavily revised by him that it took over ten years to make. Brahms was also prone to surprise decisions, deciding to grow a beard in 1878 after a life of being clean shaven. In the late 1880s, Brahms began to compose less and in the 1890s he essentially retired from composition. He died in 1897 of jaundice.
Brahms’s impact on modern music and culture is still felt today. His pieces are still played in orchestras around the world and feature in classical music channels on radio stations. His pieces are also used in movies and other forms of media. It is noteworthy that the music of Brahms and his colleagues has persisted for so long after their genre fell out of the mainstream of popular music. Music from 150 years ago is more commonly played and heard than music from 80 years ago or even 60 years ago, and will probably still be a significant part of music 100 years from now.