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Thread: Why is Brahms so great?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default Why is Brahms so great?

    For a long time, I "just didn't get Brahms". That's in quotation marks because I'm quoting, word for word (aside from a change of verb tense), myself and so many other people who say this. Now that I've seen the light, so to speak, it's difficult for me to understand how I could have ever said something like this, and yet it's also not easy for me to put into words just what it is that makes Brahms such a great composer, and why his music is so important to me on a personal level.

    So the reason I'm making this thread is that I want to know (a) what, in your opinion, makes Brahms a great composer; and/or (b) why you love Brahms.

    I don't know if I'll be able to sum it up in any meaningful way, so I'll just throw some ideas at the wall, here. One of the things that makes Brahms great is the way that he understands the interactions of different instruments. It seems in some of his scores, especially the chamber music, that each instrument is having a conversation with each other instrument, almost like call and response. It makes the music feel very intimate. There are all these little episodes of canonic writing, fugato/imitative counterpoint, stuff that sometimes is just going on in the background. There's always another layer to unearth and appreciate.

    Being that that's somewhat of a technical consideration, I want to also add simply that he was a brilliant melodist. He wrote melodies of such songlike purity that they hit right to your soul, not unlike those of Schubert or Schumann. The Violin Concerto, for example, is brimming with examples of this nature.

    Anyway, what do you think? Am I onto something, or do you love Brahms for reasons entirely different?

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    it's the beard and the BAM BAM BAM bam bam bam from his first symph

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    Brahms is always difficult for me on first listen. I have to hear a piece a few times, and then everything comes together. But darn it, Brahms also writes earworms, little melodic motifs/cells, that burrow into my skull. The nice thing about that is, the more I hear the earworm, the more I get out of what he is doing with the motifs, so I get a deeper appreciation. Brahms is the only composer that does that to me.

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    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    You like Brahms (not you personally, generally speaking) because is a mixture of Mozart and Beethoven. His melodic lines are from the Austrian. His structure a mixture of Mozart and Beethoven. And his spirit direct given from the Greatest.

    It isn't well known, but Johannes had real love and admiration for Mozart. He considered him the greatest in music history. But, this is strange, his ideas, the way he composed, his true inspiration was the Beethoven. Brahms's ladder has two ways: Upward to meet the Austrian. (windy) Down to meet Beethoven (stable) It is very logical (I don't know a lot of people who don't like Mozart & Beethoven at the same time) all to love Brahms, because is the PERFECT mixture of these composers AND (this is very important) with very steady, Bachian (sic), technic in his composition.
    „Es gibt drei Arten von Pianisten: jüdische Pianisten, homosexuelle Pianisten -- und schlechte Pianisten.“ V. Horowitz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dimace View Post
    You like Brahms (not you personally, generally speaking) because is a mixture of Mozart and Beethoven. His melodic lines are from the Austrian. His structure a mixture of Mozart and Beethoven. And his spirit direct given from the Greatest.
    .
    Yeah, that's very precise and sums up pretty well Brahms' sound. It has this interesting fusion of both worlds.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    There's always another layer to unearth and appreciate.
    This nails it for me. The music is so richly composed and so opulently expressive that you can discover something new every time. Bach aside, Brahms’s music leaves me with the greatest sense of satisfaction out of all the music I’ve ever heard, like I’ve just eaten a multi-course, multi-flavored meal from one of the greatest chefs in the world.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    Arnold Schonberg has this view that Brahms was not only progressive and innovative, but also radical (for his time) in the sense that he wanted to acomplish innovation within the Beethovenian idea of unifying musical elements by simple ideas through forms.

    There is no dud in Brahms's work, he wasn't the most prolific, but everything he wrote was "gold". The harmonic language of Brahms are dark, brooding, unexpected but very satisfying. I think you need to be at certain age to start fully appreciate Brahm's music, the pathos of Brahms' best work are often not the pathos of a youngster. I can't speak for others but this is certainly true for me.
    Last edited by UniversalTuringMachine; Jul-27-2020 at 01:18.

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    Everything he wrote, that he didn't burn, seems perfect. There's not a wasted note, not a misstep anywhere. Every thing seems to be exactly right. The music has a deep sense of integrity, nobility, and honesty. He never went for cheap tricks. His compositional skills in harmony, counterpoint, voice leading, modulation are exemplary and at times awe inspiring. His orchestration may seem somewhat backwards by the standards of his time, but it is absolutely flawless. Not bad for a composer who never went to a conservatory and was essentially self-taught!

    For many decades a way of summing up the great composers was "Bach, Beethoven and Brahms". I don't listen to his music as often as I used to (or should!) but every time I do I am instantly reminded: this is what great music is all about. I don't like everything he wrote: the German Requiem I find tedious and dull, I can't stand the Tragic Overture. But those symphonies, the chamber music, the 2nd piano concerto...genius!

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    Everything he wrote, that he didn't burn, seems perfect. There's not a wasted note, not a misstep anywhere. Every thing seems to be exactly right. The music has a deep sense of integrity, nobility, and honesty. He never went for cheap tricks. His compositional skills in harmony, counterpoint, voice leading, modulation are exemplary and at times awe inspiring. His orchestration may seem somewhat backwards by the standards of his time, but it is absolutely flawless. Not bad for a composer who never went to a conservatory and was essentially self-taught!

    For many decades a way of summing up the great composers was "Bach, Beethoven and Brahms". I don't listen to his music as often as I used to (or should!) but every time I do I am instantly reminded: this is what great music is all about. I don't like everything he wrote: the German Requiem I find tedious and dull, I can't stand the Tragic Overture. But those symphonies, the chamber music, the 2nd piano concerto...genius!
    What he said .

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    Senior Member Simplicissimus's Avatar
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    I’ve always loved Brahms and never had to struggle to find musical meanings in his works. As mentioned, his melodies and orchestration are so wonderful, with that distinctive interplay among the instruments. But what makes Brahms special for me is that his music is so memorable. With his four symphonies and two piano concerti, I can close my eyes and replay the music in my imagination. I don’t have an especially good musical mind or memory, yet these orchestral works have somehow made such deep impressions on me that I can actually play them back more or less in their entirety in my imagination. I definitely cannot do that with much other music. Just some Bach.

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    Brahms is single my favorite composer, perhaps tied with Bach. A lot of the major points that come to mind in terms of what makes him a great composer have already been mentioned, but I notice no one's really brought up his sense of rhythm. In my opinion this is one of the most striking and innovative features of his music. His use of syncopation and metric dissonance, his juxtaposition of melodic and harmonic rhythms, and the rhythmic interdependence of the voices in his contrapuntal writing give his music a fluid, protean and ultimately natural sense of time that somehow remains firm and grounded in a pervasive sense of structural integrity. Time is the essence of music, and Brahms understood it in such a beautiful and unique way.

    I'll mention one other thing for now (I could go on for ages) that relates more to why I personally love Brahms rather than the qualities which make him great. I find his compositional development fascinating: the exuberant, almost Schumann-esque Romanticism of his youth, the balance he struck between structure and expression in his middle years, and the profound, ripened wisdom of his late works. His oeuvre taken as a whole tells a beautiful and inspiring story, a story of passion, love, joy, sorrow, discovery, resignation, and acceptance. His biography may not be the most interesting of the great composers', but his musical odyssey speaks to me like no other.
    Last edited by BrahmsWasAGreatMelodist; Jul-27-2020 at 09:23.
    Casual composer, pianist, music enthusiast

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    Senior Member consuono's Avatar
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    Not bad for a composer who never went to a conservatory and was essentially self-taught!
    Was he self-taught though? I thought he studied with Marxsen, Schumann and others.

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    Brahms does have all the strengths that folks have referred to above and I admire them too, but they aren't the reasons why I love his music. For me it was more visceral than that - when I was still young and starting to get into classical music, there were a couple of his works (the Violin Concerto and the Third Symphony) whose mood and idiom resonated very, very strongly with me. Interestingly this was not the case with a number of other pieces of his which I now love dearly (the piano concertos for example) but which I had to work quite hard to get to like. Now I do in a big way, though, and as indicated it's not an intellectual thing, though there's certainly plenty of food for thought in Brahms (and, if you're a pianist, plenty of exercise for the fingers - I'm currently working on the Rhapsody in G minor, Op.79 no.2 and loving it).

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    Quote Originally Posted by UniversalTuringMachine View Post
    Arnold Schonberg has this view that Brahms was not only progressive and innovative, but also radical (for his time) in the sense that he wanted to acomplish innovation within the Beethovenian idea of unifying musical elements by simple ideas through forms.

    There is no dud in Brahms's work, he wasn't the most prolific, but everything he wrote was "gold". The harmonic language of Brahms are dark, brooding, unexpected but very satisfying. I think you need to be at certain age to start fully appreciate Brahm's music, the pathos of Brahms' best work are often not the pathos of a youngster. I can't speak for others but this is certainly true for me.
    nah, many younger people do manage to appreciate amazing and deep art like Brahms' and other composers'.
    The point is that you only managed to get it when older, certainly listening only to AOR crap while younger.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Right now I'm listening to some of his piano music on the Glenn Gould 2 disc set. 4 Ballades op. 10; 2 Rhapsodies op. 79; 10 Intermezzi. I'm a very slow Brahms collector. It took me 30 years to pick up something besides a symphony and the piano concertos but I'm getting there.
    “Music makes you feel feelings. Words make you think thoughts. But a song can make you feel a thought.”

    - Yip Harburg

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