Johannes Brahms was a prominent German composer during classical music's [Romantic period](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/romantic-period-music-guide). Born in Germany but based primarily in Vienna, Austria, Brahms helped define the modern symphony orchestra, through a series of concertos and symphonies that are still performed to this day. A virtuoso pianist, he wrote many consequential chamber music pieces and genre-defining piano concertos.\n\nBrahms was part of a German music tradition that also included Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann, and Richard Wagner.\nJohannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833 to a musical family. His father, Johann Jakob Brahms, was a double bass player in the Hamburg Philharmonic Society. Brahms studied music with his father and the pianist Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel. \n\n- __Child prodigy__: Brahms played cello and violin as a child, but excelled at the piano. A child prodigy, Brahms composed many pieces, including the famous *Piano Sonata in G minor* (1845) as a teenager. \n- __Folk music__: By 1850, he embarked on concert tours with Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, which would pique a lifelong interest in folk music, such as the csardas. Brahms's two volumes of Hungarian Dances (1869 and 1880) were among the most popular of his career.\n- __Collaboration with colleagues__: In 1853, Brahms met violinist and composer Joseph Joachim. Together, Brahms and Joachim embarked on a study of counterpoint, double counterpoint, canons, preludes, and fugues, with great emphasis on the master of counterpoint, J.S. Bach. Around the same time, he met Franz Liszt—a piano virtuoso of the nineteenth century—who was said to have sight-read Brahms's challenging *Op. 4 Scherzo*.\n- __Relationship with the Schumanns__: In late 1853, Brahms met with Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara Wieck Schumann. They became champions of Brahms's music and helped him publish his first works, Op. 1–4 (the *Piano Sonatas nos. 1 and 2*, the *Six Songs Op. 3*, and the *Scherzo Op. 4*). Upon meeting, Brahms and Clara Schumann began a platonic relationship. In June 1854 Brahms composed his Op. 9, the *Variations on a Theme of Schumann* as a tribute to Clara. \n- __Work as a conductor__: In 1863, Brahms was appointed conductor of the Wiener Singakademie, based in Europe's musical capital of Vienna, Austria. He split his time between Vienna and Lichtental, a German town located in present-day Baden-Baden. In Lichtental, Brahms wrote major compositions such as *A German Requiem*, string quartets Op. 51 No. 1 and 2, and his *Hungarian Dances*.\n- __A more traditional approach__: In 1872, Brahms was named director of concerts at the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. His programs favored traditional composers like Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, as well as his own choral works, such as his *German Requiem* and his *Variations on a Theme by Haydn*. He eschewed the more progressive compositions of the New German School.\n- __Orchestral writing__: At the end of his musical career, Brahms focused on orchestral writing. Highlights of this period included *Symphony No. 1 in C minor*, *Symphony No. 2 in D major*, *Symphony No. 3 in F major*, the *Violin Concerto in D major*, the *Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major*, and 1880’s *Tragic Overture*.\n\nBrahms died in 1897 at the age of 63. Weeks before, he had appeared at a performance of his *Symphony No. 4 in E minor*. He is buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery, and his gravesite features a monument by Victor Horta with a sculpture by Ilse von Twardowski.\n\nJohannes Brahms is known for several musical characteristics:\n\n1. __Musically conservative for his era__: Compared to other Romantic composers, Brahms was considered conservative. His compositional technique was closely tied to [Classical Period](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/classical-music-eras) traditions.\n2. __Virtuosic piano literature__: Brahms was a piano prodigy and his mastery of the instrument manifests in compositions such as *Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15*; *Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25*; and *Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121*, for piano and bass.\n3. __Mastery of counterpoint__: Schooled in the works of Bach and Beethoven, Brahms was a master of [counterpoint](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-play-species-counterpoint). This can be heard in works like *String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36*; *String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111*; and two serenades, Op. 11 and 16.\nJohannes Brahms was a prolific composer during the Romantic era. His famous works include:\n\n1. __*Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8*__: One of the first major works of Brahms, this trio was completed in 1854 when the composer was 20 years old. It is a homotonal composition, with two movements in the key of B major and two movements in the key of B minor.\n2. __*Variations on a Theme by Haydn*__: Originally composed for two pianos and reimagined as a piece for full orchestra, this remains one of Brahms's most-performed compositions.\n3. __*Liebeslieder Waltzes*__: Brahms was intrigued by the waltz form and was an admirer of both Franz Schubert (who came before him) and Johann Strauss II (a contemporary). His own contributions to the form include the *Liebeslieder Waltzes*, a selection of love songs that may have been inspired by the composer's long-standing platonic love for Clara Wieck Schumann.\n4. __*Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68*__: Brahms produced a flurry of symphonic music at the end of his career, but his first symphony took him 14 years to complete—with another 7 years spent on finishing touches. The final version that’s performed today was completed in 1877.\n5. __*Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108*__: Brahms's third violin sonata was his last. It is dedicated to Hans von Bülow.\n6. __*Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120, Nos. 1 and 2*__: These sonatas are considered a highlight of Brahms's late career. They were written for clarinet virtuoso Richard Mühlfeld, whom Brahms had heard play at the Meiningen Arts Festival.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Herbie Hancock, Tom Morello, Sheila E., and more.\nJohannes Brahms was a prominent composer of nineteenth-century Romantic music who had an impact on Western music.