Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/577

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BRAHMS.
561
 

the grandeur of these masterpieces and feel that they exist for all time.

Brahms's published works have now reached the opus-number 102; of these twenty-eight have appeared since 1878.

During this important period of full maturity it is noticeable that Brahms's style has undergone no very marked change. He has kept to those conservative principles which have governed his creations almost from the beginning of his career. He has added to every branch of art in which he has been previously successful; but the drama seems to offer no attraction to his genius.

By far the larger part of his later compositions consist of vocal pieces for one or more voices; indeed no less than seven books of songs have appeared since 1880, exclusive of quartets and romances for mixed chorus. In these songs Brahms's personality is very prominently displayed. A power of intense expression, a profusion of melody of the highest order, a subtle treatment of popular sentiment, in its lighter as in its more serious aspect, and, finally, a sure judgment in the selection of his words all these qualities are even more noticeable in the later than in the earlier songs. Goethe, Heine, Rückert, Platen, von Schenkendorff, Siegfried Kapper—and more rarely Geibel—these are some of the poets whose words he uses most frequently; always investing them with deep musical purpose, and, where the sentiment requires it, employing the most elaborate means of expression. As a song-writer he stands alone; he cannot be classed with Schubert, Schumann, or Robert Franz.

The relentlessness of fate forms the subject of the two greater choral works of this period:—a setting of Schiller's 'Nänie,' and the 'Gesang der Parzen' from Goethe's Iphigenia. They are no unworthy companion-pieces to the earlier 'Song of Destiny,' though they will not readily attain an equal popularity with that most perfect work.

The compositions for piano—Brahms's own instrument are not very numerous. The eight pieces for piano, op. 76 (Capriccios and Intermezzos) are highly characteristic of the master, both as regards inspiration and scientific treatment. Some of the Intermezzos, simple and touching, contrast pleasantly with Capriccios which offer almost insurmountable difficulties to the most skilful virtuoso. The two Rhapsodies (op. 79) are admirable instances of how successfully well-established forms may, in the hands of a master, be used to convey the most original ideas.

Finally we come to the orchestral works, on which Brahms's claims to one of the highest positions in the musical world must be based. These include two delightful concert-overtures (op. 80 and 81), a Pianoforte Concerto in B♭ (op. 83,) a voluminous work in four movements, and a Violin Concerto (op. 77) written for Joachim. Of the two later Symphonies, No. 3, in F (op. 90), seems to combine something of the grandiose and heroic character of the first Symphony in C minor with the more graceful and delicate features of the second in D. Deep and manly feeling expressed with terseness and energy, skilful construction and powerful development, orchestral colouring at once sombre and effective, these are the chief features of the first and last movements of this symphony; while the Andante and Allegretto, though they hardly sustain the lofty and epic character of the work, charm every hearer by their exquisite melody and easy grace.

On so important and elaborate a work as the Fourth Symphony, in E minor, it is as yet too soon to pronounce a very definite judgment. To many hearers it will seem laboured, and lacking in spontaneity; and there is no doubt that the prominence given to musical erudition may be held to detract from the emotional interest of the work. The last movement, consisting of a passacaglia—a novel form for the finale of a Symphony—is highly interesting, but chiefly to those able to appreciate its excellent workmanship. On the other hand, only prejudice could lead any one to overlook the splendid qualities of this last symphony. It is nobly and solidly planned, and, in spite of intricate thematic details, is carried out with conciseness and self-restraint—virtues by no means common among contemporary composers. It bears the unmistakable impression of Brahms's individuality in all its wholesome vigour and manliness; dryness and harshness may occasionally disfigure it, but it is as free as the rest of his works from anything weak or trivial. Taken as a whole, this symphony seems to display, more completely than any one of the later compositions, those rare combinations of intellect and emotion, of modern feeling and old-fashioned skill which are the very essence of Brahms's style.

The last additions to the chamber-music consist of a sonata for violoncello and piano in F, a sonata for violin and piano in A, and a trio for piano and strings in C minor, all of which are intensely interesting and full of vigorous beauty. A concerto for violin and violoncello with orchestra was played by Joachim and Hausmann at Cologne in the autumn of 1887, and at one of the London Symphony concerts in Feb. 1888.

There is little or nothing to be added to the biography of Herr Brahms. He enjoys the unchanging esteem and admiration of his countrymen, and wherever the production of his works may lead him he is sure to meet with the most enthusiastic receptions. Early in 1887 the Emperor of Germany, in recognition of his genius, appointed him Knight of the Order 'pour le mérite' for Arts and Sciences.

The following is a list of Brahms's published compositions from June 1878 to March 1887:—

Op.
74. Two Motets.
75. 2 Ballads for 2 voices.
76. 8 Piano pieces (Capriccios and Intermezzos).
77. Concerto for Violin.
78. Sonata for PF. and Violin in G.
79. Two Rhapsodies for PF.
80. Academical Festival Overture.
81. Tragic Overture.
82. 'Naenie,' for Chorus and Orchestra.
83. PF. Concerto in B♭.
84. Romances and Songs tor 1 or 2 voices.
85. Six Songs for 1 voice.
86. Six Songs for 1 voice.
87. Trio for PF. and Strings.
88. Quintet for Strings in F.
89. Gesang der Parzen, for 6-Part Chorus and Orch.
90. Symphony in F, No. 3.
91. 2 Songs for Alto with violin obbllgato.
92. 4 Vocal Quartets with Pf.