In Germany, very naturally, the activity in the higher departments of music remains more intense than in any other country, and the seat of musical empire may be said to still abide in southern Germany, where it was established by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The most eminent living composer in the higher department of the art, Johannes Brahms, resides at Vienna since these many years; there also Max Bruch long re-sided, and there the greatest of the light opera composers, the Strauss family and Von Suppé, have lived and worked. It is in the provinces of the Austro-Hungarian empire, moreover, that the Bohemian composer, Dvorak, has his home.
In Johannes Brahms (18331897) we have just had a musical master of the first order, whose quality as master is shown in his marvelous technique, in which respect no recent composer is to be mentioned as his superior, if any can be named since Bach his equal. This technique was at first personal, at the pianoforte, upon which he was a virtuoso of phenomenal rank; but this renown, great as it is in well informed circles, sinks into insignificance beside his marvelous ability at marshaling musical periods, elaborating together the most dissimilar and apparently incompatible subjects, and his powers of varying a given theme and of unfolding from it ever something new. These wonderful gifts, for such they were rather than laboriously acquired attainments, Brahms showed at the first moment when the light of musical history shines upon him. It was in 1853, when the Hungarian violinist, Edouard Remenyi, found him at Hamburgh and engaged him as accompanist and having ascertained his astonishing talents, brought him, a young man of twenty, to Liszt at Weimar, with his first trio and certain other compositions in manuscript. The new talent made a prodigious effect upon Liszt, who needed not that any one should certify to him whether a composer had genius or merely talent. The Liszt circle took up the Brahms cult in earnest, played the trio at the chamber concerts, and the members when they departed to their homes generally carried with them their admiration of this new personality which had appeared in music.
Johannes Brahms was born at Hamburgh, May 7, 1833, the son of a fine musician who was player upon the double bass in the orchestra there. The boy was always intended for a musician, and his instruction was taken in hand with so much success that at the age of fourteen he played in public pieces by Bach and Beethoven, and a set of original variations. At the age of twenty he was a master’, and it was in this year that he accompanied Remenyi, made the acquaintance of Joachim and Liszt, and had a rarely appreciative notice from a master no less than Robert Schumann himself, who in his New journal of Music said:
“He has come, a youth at whose cradle graces and heroes kept watch. Sitting at the piano he began to unveil wonderful regions. We were drawn into more and more magical circles by his playing, full of genius, which made of the piano an orchestra of lamenting and jubilant voices. There were sonatas, or rather veiled symphonies; songs whose poetry might be understood without words; piano pieces both of a demoniac nature and of the most graceful form; sonatas for piano and violin; string quartettes, each so different from every other that they seemed to flow from many different springs. Whenever he bends his magic wand, there, when the powers of the orchestra and chorus lend him their aid, further glimpses of the magic world will be revealed to us. May the highest genius strengthen him! Mean-while the spirit of modesty dwells within him. His comrades greet him at his first entrance into the world of art, where wounds may perhaps await him, but bay and laurel also; we welcome him as a valiant warrior.”
The next few years were spent by Brahms in directing orchestra and chorus at Detmold and elsewhere, and in Switzerland, which has always had great attraction for him. In 1859 he played in Leipsic his first great pianoforte concerto; most of the criticisms thereon were, however, such as now excite mirth. Lately he has played in Leipsic again, conducted several of his works, and was greeted with the reverence and enthusiasm due the greatest living representative of the art of music. In 1862 Brahms located in Vienna, where he has almost ever since resided. Mr. Louis Kestelborn, in “Famous Composers and Their Works,” says: “About thirty years ago the writer first saw Brahms in his Swiss home; at that time he was of a rather delicate, slim-looking figure, with a beardless face of ideal expression. Since then he has changed in appearance, until now he looks the very image of health, being stout and muscular, the noble manly face surrounded by a full gray beard: The writer well remembers singing under his direction, watching him conduct orchestra rehearsals, hearing him play alone or with orchestra, listening to an after-dinner speech or private conversation, observing him when attentively listening to other works, and seeing the modest smile with which he accepted, or rather declined, expressions of admiration.”
The most important works of Brahms, aside from his ” German Requiem,” are four symphonies for orchestra, two concertos for pianoforte, a concerto for violin and ‘cello with orchestra, a violin concerto, many songs, a variety of compositions for chamber, embracing a number for unusual combinations of instruments (such as clarinet and horn with piano), sonatas for piano solo, etc. In the songs he attains a simple and direct expression, not surpassed in musical quality since Schubert and Schumann; in the concertos he is more for music than for display, which is merely to say that in conceiving the display of his solo instrument, he has sought rather to display it at its best in a musical sense than to exhibit its peculiar tricks of dexterity. As a symphonist he follows classic form, and is more successful than any other writer in the slow movements, a department in which most of the later writers are distinctly weak, since in an idealized folk song (which is the essential ideal of the symphonic slow movement) poverty of imagination cannot be concealed by dexterity of thematic treatment and modulation. As a composer Brahms was distinguished for great structural technic, a beautiful and charming ideality, and a fine and subtle instinct for mood in music, These qualities are strikingly illustrated in his great sets of Variations, his Intermezzi, etc., no less than in his Sonatas and Symphonies.
Distinguished among German composers is Max Bruch (1838 ) who was born at Cologne, and educated there and almost everywhere else in Germany. Bruch is best known by his works for chorus with orchestra, of which ” Frithjof,” ” A Roman Song of Triumph,”
The Song of the Three Kings,” ” Odysseus,” “Arminius ” are best known. His concerto for violin is also played in all parts of the world, but his opera of ” Hermione ” made but a moderate success at Berlin in 1872. Riemann considers his greatest works for mixed chorus to be “Odysseus,” Arminius,” “The Song of the Bell,” and for male chorus “Frithjof,” “Salamis” and The Normans.” His style is closely wrought, musical, full of deep and natural musical expression, and well colored instrumentation.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) a highly gifted organist and composer, has written seven symphonies, in which the style is very modern, and shows the influence of the theatrical style of Wagner. He is a composer of considerable vigor, great technic, and occasional inspiration.