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Johannes Brahms and his sublime violin Concerto

Updated on April 12, 2015


My big problem with Johannes Brahms

A brief appreciation of the Brahms violin Concerto

Brilliant performance of the Brahms violin Concerto

This is the image that I have lived with since childhood.


My big problem with Johannes Brahms

I have a rather weird relationship with the German composer Johannes Brahms. Years ago, when I was much younger, I read an article about Johannes Brahms, which referred to him as a curmudgeonly bachelor. The article was accompanied by a cartoon of the composer looking rather portly and grumpy. This image and the description has stuck in my mind ever since. It has coloured my attitude to all the music of Johannes Brahms as well. Whenever I think about the music of Brahms, images of fat old men always come into my brain. No matter how beautiful and sylphlike the actual compositions might be, part of me still expects to be listening to the ponderous clunkingly boring effluvia of a JCB digger, instead of some of the most divinely inspired music ever to come from the pen of a classical composer. It's grossly unfair on poor old Brahms, but such are the effects that childhood impressions can continue to make, even on such a coldly logical adult as I am. Brahms equals boring. Such was the case and such will always be the case.

Bearing the above paragraph in mind, it's difficult for me to comprehend how I've just managed to spend 45 minutes being transported to the gates of Paradise by the music of the aforementioned German bulldozer. It shouldn't be happening. I should be feeling the revulsion that my lingering prejudices have left me with. So why am I feeling as if I've just had an audience with the divine? The answer is simple. I've just been listening to the Brahms violin Concerto. Somehow I think that, reluctantly, I am being forced to grow up.

Brilliant performance of the Brahms violin Concerto

A brief appreciation of the Brahms violin Concerto

Johannes Brahms wrote his Concerto for violin and orchestra in D Major in the year 1878 and he dedicated it to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The Concerto was not universally appreciated at first. One violin virtuoso, (who shall be nameless here), refused to play it because he said he didn't want to stand on the rostrum, violin in hand and listen to the only good music being played by the oboe. The conductor Hans von Bülow is reputed to have described it as “the Concerto against the violin”, but he was very bitter against life in general since his wife had been stolen by that arch cad Richard Wagner in 1868, so jaundiced opinions were only to be expected from this source. Even Brahms himself didn't really like his violin Concerto. He referred to the adagio as a “feeble adagio”. A lot of the criticism that was levelled at the composition was because Brahms moved away from the convention of the virtuoso soloist and the subordinate accompanying orchestra. The tradition had grown up with composers and soloists like Franz Liszt and Niccolo Paganini, of concertos, being mainly designed to showcase the talents and virtuoso capabilities of the soloists. The orchestral score had become almost an afterthought. Brahms moved the Concerto back to an earlier era, when the soloist was in partnership with the orchestra, rather than dominating the proceedings. This feature, which drew criticism at the time, is actually one of the great glories of the Brahms violin Concerto. When you listen to this music you feel, that every note being played, is meant to be listened to and appreciated.

Joseph Joachim did not join in the chorus of detractors. He said that the Concerto would become one of the four great concertos in the German repertoire. He was right. Which the other three are, is a matter for debate. My nominations are, the Bruch violin Concerto, the Mendelssohn violin Concerto and of course, the Beethoven violin Concerto. If I go to Heaven and Jesus asks me to judge a boxing match between Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, over which of them composed the more perfect violin Concerto; I will have bad news for the deaf genius from Bonn. I love Beethoven and I revere his violin Concerto, but no other piece of music can transport me to the stratosphere like the violin Concerto in D major by that clunking, curmudgeonly demolitionist’s machine, Johannes Brahms. If Beethoven moans about my decision, I shall ask Jesus to make him deaf again. That should shut him up.

The video that accompanies this article is of the performance of the Concerto by the great modern violinist Isaac Stern. This is the same rendition that was transporting me beyond the outer reaches of the cosmos not three hours ago. If you listen to it, I hope it may do the same for you.

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This is a picture of the young composer that completely counteracts the vision that used to be in my head. He was actually quite a dishy young genius. There is something of the smouldering quality of James Dean about this face. I want to have his babies. Pity he's dead.

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    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Music-and-Art-45.

      I was really young when I saw that picture of Brahms. Unfortunately childhood impressions are hard to shake off. The violin Concerto helped to cure me though.

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile image


      6 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Brahms violin concerto is one of the best written for the instrument. I really like the folkish sounding 3rd movement. Glad to see you were able to move past his looks and listen to his music. I never thought about the way Brahms looked before, but now that you mention it, he does look strange especially when he got older.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Cheers Nell. I'm still trying to get my head round the fact that he was actually goodlooking.

      Thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed the music.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi christopher, I love the way you get me listening to music that I haven't heard before! lol! I know, I am a heathen! seriously though I sat through ten minutes of it and it was lovely. I know what you mean about getting an image in your head and it never goes away until you take a look at it years later, he was a handsome guy! and the music is pretty special too!

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks drbj.

      I think I may get a little frame and put a picture of the youthful Brahms in it. If I look at it continously for a few years, it might help to cure me. He evidently was an attractive young man because Clara Schumann fell in love with him.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      How dreadful for you, christopher, that all these years you have carried around that unflattering image of Brahms when in reality as a young man he was quite handsome - almost beautiful I would say with his regular features.

      This is a fascinating work of art, my friend, and I shall return again to hear the concerto in its entirety. Thank you for this treat.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Nellieanna.

      Thank you for all your kind words and for the pictures. You are right. There is a distinct resemblance between the young Johannes Brahms and Heath Ledger.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      6 years ago from TEXAS

      Christopher, I love your cute humor and your sublime taste in music. I gain so much from visiting your hubs! I've been listening to the video; -- but it's 40 minutes long so I'll need to dedicate exclusive time to hearing all of it. Right then, I had another project in mind and in connection here, which is done.

      You see, I tracked down a couple more pictures of young Johannes. You really did find the best of them already. But I wanted to make these easy for you to access so I made a wee webpage for them on one of my little-used domains. I have 3 others than my main one. The reason I have extra domains is to protect any of my nicknames from being used by others. But the sites are fully functioning and less crowded than my main one.

      Anyway, while I was doing the research for Brahms, it occurred to me that not only is there a suggestion of James Dean in his youthful expression and features, but also, some of the late Heath Ledger - a few years younger than the more recent exposure. So there is a picture of him a little younger on this little picture page, as well.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I just found a picture of Brahms, taken when he was a young man. I have added to the bottom of the article.

      "Be Still, my beating heart".

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi John.

      I think I need to look for some more youthful pictures of Johannes Brahms. It might help to counteract the unfortunate image I got when I was a child.

    • christopheranton profile imageAUTHOR

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi collegatariat.

      Thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Maybe the "Big man" is laughing at it in Heaven. I hope he is.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Chris, and what a wonderful hub you've written.

      Yes, I've said that next to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, comes Brahms. I think he was a culmination of the German School of Music..., all positive things said about him, he does have to grow on you.

      Additionally, Brahms was handsome and fit when he was young (twenties - don't say we're all good looking when young, because, there are people who've been ugly all of their lives...LOL), but started gaining weight in his 40's and it was downhill after that. He also had liver problems - things typically associated with people with weight problems....

      Voted up and away on your well written article


    • collegatariat profile image


      6 years ago

      This is hilarious! I have to whole-heartedly agree with your assessment of Brahms. His music was always stodgy and dull, even if I could appreciate the technical genius of it. However, the first piece that began to salvage his reputation in my eyes was his double concerto, and the violin concerto followed soon after to help redeem him even further. All in all, his music is still not my favorite but there are the few pieces that redeem him from complete apathy on my part.

      Very clever hub! I enjoyed the humor and wit that you threw in along the way.


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