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Living in Beethoven’s Shadow

Orchestral music had moved from the parlors of the nobility and into the public forums by the time Johannes Brahms made his mark in the latter half of the 19th Century. Beethoven was long dead but his influence was felt by everyone who composed and by Brahms most of all.

In fact, Brahms avoided writing a symphony until he was famous and in his 40s, intimidated as he was by Beethoven’s Nine. When Brahms finally did, he wrote a symphony so strong that it was immediately acclaimed as “Beethoven’s Tenth.” Brahms could not have been prouder. As if to prove it was no fluke, he wrote three more symphonies equally as strong.

Brahms tackled all forms of classical music--except opera. Everything he did was first-rate. His only Violin Concerto is among the three or four in the same league with Beethoven’s magisterial Violin Concerto. And his Second Piano Concerto is up there too, with Beethoven’s.

Brahms had his quirks. He was rude, prickly, grew a long beard, and was a sloppy dresser. Whenever he had the chance, he did his best to insult his cross-town rival Richard Wagner. He fell asleep and snored loudly during a Franz Liszt piano recital, and once left a party saying, “If there is anybody here I have not insulted, I apologize.”

Brahms is 6th on the list of 50 greatest composers, after Wagner, which, if Brahms knew this he would be highly incensed.


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