Johannes Brahms 1870 - 1897
By 1868 Brahms had moved to Vienna, the capital of European classical music, and had acquired two more powerful advocates, the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim and the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick.(*) Both men saw Brahms as the last best hope of the anti-Wagnerites, and though Brahms admired the older composer's music but disliked his "stilted, bombastic" language and dramaturgy--he would become the unwilling focus of organized opposition to the Wagner cult.
Brahms's long-awaited First Symphony, Op. 68, premiered in 1876, led to claims that he was Beethoven's spiritual heir. (The pianist-conductor Hans von Bulow, referring to Beethoven's nine symphonies, actually went so far as to dub Brahms's First "the Tenth.")
Starting in the early 1870's, Brahms had begun to make a good living through the sale of his music and the ample fees he commanded as a pianist and conductor; for the rest of his days, he lived in middle-class comfort in a small Vienna apartment, remaining unmarried.
After the death of his father in 1872, Brahms conducted the orchestra of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna from 1872 to 1875, after which he devoted himself entirely to composition. His conducting experience undoubtedly influenced his return to orchestral composition, marked by his first two symphonies (C minor and D major), his monumental violin concerto and second piano concerto, and two concert overtures--the Tragic and the jovial Academic Festival, based on student songs and written to celebrate an honorary doctorate awarded him by the University of Breslau in 1879. During this period Brahms did not neglect song or chamber music, although the number of his piano compositions diminished after he wrote Variations on a Theme by Handel (1862). During the 1880s, Brahms wrote his third (F major) and fourth (E minor) symphonies; the double concerto (A minor) for violin, cello, and orchestra; and choral works, chamber music, and songs.
In 1889, Brahms was appointed a “freeman of Hamburg”. 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.
In October of 1890, He began ‘cleaning house’, and destroying incomplete works or abandoned compositions. Brahms made his will in 1891 and then embarked with renewed vigor on the composition of many of his best works. He returned to writing for the piano, creating in his short capriccios, ballades, and intermezzos a musical testament that sums up the musical achievements of German romanticism. During these years Brahms became friends with the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld and wrote the finest works ever composed for the clarinet: two sonatas, the quintet for clarinet and string quartet, and the trio for clarinet, cello, and piano. Also during these years, were the deaths of his sister Elise, of Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, of...