Difficult for some, too cosy for others: the music of Brahms has inspired hugely contrasting reactions in audiences both during his lifetime and since his death. Here’s a short guide to his style…
The young Brahms soon developed a passion for the many collections of folk material which were being made in the wake of the Romantic movement.
He was to make over 200 folksong arrangements for both choir and voice and piano, beginning with the 14 Folksongs for Children of 1858. Many folk texts and melodies found their way into his songs.
The climax of Brahms’s work in this field was his great anthology of 49 folksongs of 1894.
This is an expression coined by Schoenberg to describe what is the method of composition familiar to all of us: the continuous development of motifs, rather than a formal set of variations.
He traced its beginnings in JS Bach through the Viennese Classics, but found its fullest fruition in the music of Brahms. Schoenberg discusses in particular the first movement of the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F, Op. 99, and the third of the Four Serious Songs.
In 1854 the 21-year-old Brahms spent much time in Schumann’s library, and there discovered a wide range of late Renaissance and early Baroque music entirely unknown to the musical world of his time.
The immediate creative result was some contrapuntal pieces for organ, an a cappella Mass in the old style and some pastiches of old dance movements: a Sarabande found its way into the F major String Quintet, Op. 88 of 1882.