Listening Quest #15: Johannes Brahms

Monday, May 2, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

We’re coming up on the birthday of Johannes Brahms, who was born on May 9 th , 1833 and lived to the age of 63, passing away April 3, 1897. He is considered to be one of classical music’s greatest composers, often listed as one of the big B’s: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

I’m sure you already recognize some of Brahms’s music. His most famous piece is Wiegenlied, more commonly known as Brahms’s Lullaby. You know the one – everyone knows the tune, but no one knows the words, since they were originally written in German, his own language. Not sure you know the one? Here it is sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
Next most famous of Brahms’s compositions is probably his Hungarian Dances, and of the 21 that he wrote, the most famous of those is the Hungarian Dance #5. Even though he was born in Germany and considered a German composer, he lived most of his adult life in Austria. One more country away is Hungary, and Brahms was fascinated by their folk music. Some of the dances are arrangements of those folks dances and others were inspired by them. He originally wrote them for piano duet, but they proved to be so popular that he re-arranged them for piano solo and a few of them for orchestra. Other composers have since arranged most of them for orchestra as well. Since we are most interested in piano (aren’t we?) and there is this fabulous recording by Benjamin Grosvenor playing it as an encore at the BBC Proms, that’s what you get:
Extra Exploring: You might be interested to hear how the piano duet version is both similar and different. Here it is played by the Passepartout Piano Duo:

Last but not least, here is the orchestral version, played by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Claudio Abbado: