Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 3 April 1897) was a German composer of the Romantic Era.
Like many other prominent composers, Brahms moved to Vienna and reached the height of his career there. During his time, he was known as a "Classical Romantic", as his music was heavily influenced by the Classical Era, which put emphasis on unity of form and development of short, open-ended motives. It says something about Brahms' talents when he was compared to Ludwig van Beethoven. In his youth, Brahms was the protégé of another famous Romantic composer, Robert Schumann, for a short time and had a strong friendship with Schumann's wife, Clara.
Classical fans probably best know him for his First Symphony, which is the unofficial theme for his home city of Hamburg, and his Hungarian Dances, especially the fifth. Pop culture fans will instantly recognize his lullaby.
Tropes present in Brahms' life and work:
- Bond, James Bond: There exists an Edison phonograph recording of his voice where he introduceds himself as "Doktor Brahms, Johannes Brahms" before playing a piece on the piano.
- Celibate Hero: Brahms started out wanting to marry and have children, and he enjoyed the company of women and liked children, but as he told it himself, when he was the right age to marry his work wasn't very successful and he didn't want to have to burden a wife with being married to an unsuccessful composer. By the time he was successful, he felt too old and too set in his ways. He did have a very intense relationship with Clara Schumann, but she was 14 years older than him and it's doubtful whether it was anything other than platonic.
- Deadpan Snarker: He was famous for this. When he and a friend played his cello sonata, the friend complained that he couldn't hear himself play the cello part over the volume of Brahms' piano. Brahms replied "Lucky you." On another occasion, composer Max Bruch played him a new composition and showed him the manuscript afterwards. Brahms' only comment was "I like the paper."
- Eccentric Mentor: Brahms had one in the form of Robert Schumann, although Schumann wasn't so much eccentric as mentally ill, eventually committing himself to a mental hospital after a series of suicide attempts and dying there at the age of 46.
- Flame War: The conflict between Brahms' supporters and Wagner's was a 19th Century version, including over-the-top magazine articles insulting and condemning the other side.
- I Was Quite a Looker: He was quite handsome in his youth◊ and far different from the general perception that most people would have of him, with the Santa Clausy beard.
- The Insomniac: Took frequent naps throughout the day and was typically moody; A lot of historical psychologists believe that he suffered from insomnia, or at least sleep deprivation. The song Nächtens implies that he may have also had frequent nightmares.
- Lovable Rogue: Brahms' status as a Celibate Hero enabled him to largely get away with being one of these, especially later in his life. He once greeted a male friend off the train by giving him a huge hug, then looked at him and said "Oh, sorry, I thought you were your wife." This period was, however, around the beginning of the suffragette movement and Ethel Smyth (a young Englishwoman who was a keen suffragette and who went on to be a major composer herself) noted that Brahms was only nice to women he thought attractive.
- Must Have Caffeine: Brahms was addicted to coffee. Possibly due to being The Insomniac.
- Romanticism: Yes, but with some qualifiers. Brahms' music belongs decidedly to the Romantic era, but he represented a more traditionalist strain of Romanticism that followed Baroque and Classical composers such as Haydn and Bach, disputing the ideology of more florid composers such as Wagner, Liszt, and Strauss as too undisciplined. In particular, Brahms refused to compose programmatic music that relied on external narratives, writing only "absolute music" such as sonatas, symphonies, and chamber music. The dispute has been called "The War of the Romantics".
- Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: Brahms was a professional musician from early youth and it's fair to say that constant hours of playing the piano meant that he wasn't always the most charming and polite person in the room.
- Standard Snippet: His lullaby, perhaps better known in the west as "Lullaby and Goodnight," is often used in movies and shows where a character is sleepy or preparing to go to sleep. More often than not, the melody will be played on a music box or glockenspiel.
- Wizard Beard: In his later life he was well known for his iconic bushy whiskers.
- Worthy Opponent: For Brahms it was Richard Wagner, although it's more that their respective fanbases considered each to be the Arch-Enemy of the other. Brahms actually liked and admired a lot of Wagner's music, even though he disliked Wagner's cult of personality; Wagner did not exactly return the compliment, but he did send Brahms a copy of Das Rheingold.