Great Masters: Brahms—His Life and Music

Course No. 757
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

In both his life and his music, Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) was a man of contrasts. He composed serious Teutonic music and joyful dance music. He was miserly with himself and exceedingly generous with family and associates. He was kind to working people and known for his biting, malicious wit in artistic and aristocratic social circles.

Not an easy man to know, Brahms destroyed a good deal of his own work and almost all of his lifetime's correspondence, in later years even collecting his letters from friends so that he could consign them to the flames.

This course links the complexities of the man with the electrifying music of the composer through biographical information and musical commentary.

An Independent Spirit

Brahms had vowed early in life to be lonely but free. He never married, owned a home, held a job for more than a few years, or took on a commissioned piece.

In art, he showed a similar independence of spirit. He believed in traditional musical genres and forms as challenges to expressive freedom, as healthy sources of stimulation for his awesome artistic powers.

Unlike, for example, Beethoven, Brahms did not reinvent his art repeatedly in response to personal emotional crises, but rather found his essential compositional voice while in his mid-20s, and developed it in more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary fashion.

Symphonies and Other Gems

You discover that Brahms, with a perfectionist's fanatical zeal, wrote, rewrote, and ultimately destroyed more than 20 string quartets before publishing a pair of exceptionally exquisite pieces at the age of 40, breathing new life into the old bones of an exacting chamber music form.

You explore why Brahms took 21 years to complete his first symphony—immediately hailed as "Beethoven's Tenth"—and then produced three more in less than a decade.

You find that Brahms single-handedly started a second "golden symphonic age" by inspiring younger composers such as Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius, Elgar, and Dvorák.

Brahms found unique ways of combining rigor and formal complexity of older Classical and even Baroque genres and forms (sonata, theme and variations, rondo) with melodic inventiveness, harmonic sophistication, and expressive richness prized in the Romantic Age.

Brahms's Early Life: Barroom Pianist

Brahms was born in the red-light district of Hamburg on May 7, 1833. He began taking music lessons at age 4 and by age 8 showed great potential as a pianist. His parents hired him out to play in the bars and brothels of Hamburg.

As a teenager, Brahms grew into a solitary young man who spent time composing, giving lessons, and playing piano in respectable establishments. Brahms had grown to love and admire traditional German music and sound compositional technique, exemplified in the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

In his late teens, Brahms was exposed to Hungarian gypsy music and met a Hungarian refugee named Eduard Rimenyi. In 1853, Brahms and Rimenyi decided to go on tour and make contacts. Within seven months, Brahms met Joseph Joachim and Clara and Robert Schumann, all of whom would become close friends, and Brahms himself would be hailed as the future of German music.

Brahms and the Schumanns

Robert Schumann used his influence to have Brahms's first pieces published, including the Piano Sonata in C Major, the Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor, and the E-flat Minor Scherzo, and Brahms returned to Hamburg to begin building his career.

Robert's psychotic breakdown called Brahms back to the Schumann household in 1854. He stayed there to offer emotional support to Clara and began work on a violent, angst-filled piece that would eventually become his Piano Concerto no. 1 in D Minor.

Brahms and Clara fell in love, but Brahms was unable to act on his feelings, even after Robert's death in the summer of 1856.

Brahms as Wanderer

For the next several years, Brahms took various appointments and traveled but refused to commit himself to a long-term professional position. His Piano Concerto in D Minor was premiered in Leipzig in 1859, with disastrous results.

He finally stumbled into a position as a choral conductor and composer in Hamburg that would prove to be the key to his musical maturity. By 1860, Brahms had achieved his mature compositional style. We see this combination in his Piano Quartet in G Minor from 1861.

His mother died in 1864, leaving Brahms grief stricken but moved to compose his longest and perhaps most personal work, A German Requiem.

Brahms, the String Quartet, and his Symphonic Nerve

The years 1865–1870 were compositionally productive for Brahms, but he was still terrified at the prospect of writing a symphony. He occupied himself almost exclusively with vocal music, writing, among many other works, the "Cradle Song," probably his most recognized piece, and the magnificent Requiem.

In 1871, Brahms accepted the position of director of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna, where he was free to study and conduct the music he chose, including that of Handel, Bach, and Beethoven, along with Mendelssohn and Schumann.

After seven years of concentrating on vocal music, Brahms again turned to orchestral composition, producing his Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn and the String Quartets in C Minor and A Minor.

In 1875, Brahms resigned his directorship, freeing himself to complete his Symphony no. 1 in C Minor. Brahms's First Symphony is a brilliant example of his synthesis of Romantic melody, harmony, and spirit with Classical discipline and formal structures.

During this period, Brahms was rich and famous, comfortably ensconced in the artistic life of Vienna, and producing one genuine masterwork after another, including his Second Symphony, the Violin Concerto in D Major, and the monumental Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major.

The Final Years

As Brahms reached his 50s he was still producing prodigious amounts of music. His Third and Fourth Symphonies come from this period, along with songs, sonatas, a Trio in C Major, and the Double Concerto for Violin and 'Cello.

When his lifelong friend Clara Schumann died in 1896, Brahms was devastated. His own health deteriorated, and he died of liver cancer in 1897.

"His legacy to us is a lifetime of extraordinary craft and artistic beauty without an inferior piece in the collection," notes Professor Greenberg.

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, op. 77 (1878)
Piano Concerto no. 1 in D Minor, op. 15 (1859)
A German Requiem, op. 45 (1865)
Horn Trio in E-flat Major, op. 40 (1865)
Songs, op. 49, Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) (1868)
Symphony no. 1 in C Minor, op. 68 (1876)
Symphony no. 2 in D Major, op. 73 (1877)
Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 83 (1881)
Symphony no. 3 in F Major, op. 90 (1883)
Symphony no. 4 in E Minor, op. 98 (1885)
Quintet for Strings in G Major, op. 111 (1890)
Waltz, op. 39, no. 15 (1865)
Quartet for Four Voices and Piano, Neckereien (Teasing), op. 31, no. 2 (1859)
Serenade in D Major, op. 11 (1858)
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56a (1873)
String Quartet in C Minor, op. 51, no. 1 (1873)

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8 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    J.B., We Hardly Knew You!
    Johannes Brahms tried to "shape" the future's memory of himself by destroying much of his own work and correspondence. Feelings of inferiority could have come from his humble origins. He was born in Hamburg's red-light district. By the time he was eight, his potential as a pianist was apparent. His teacher recognized Brahms's talent, and grounded him in the music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and others in the German/Austrian tradition. x
  • 2
    The Brothels of Hamburg
    One of the disturbing formative experiences of Brahms's childhood was his employment as a piano player in the bars and brothels of Hamburg. Brahms continued his lessons and came to appreciate the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Brahms met a Hungarian violinist named Eduard Rimenyi; they went on tour together. The contacts Brahms made on this tour would catapult him to fame only seven months after he left Hamburg. x
  • 3
    The Schumanns
    Clara and Robert Schumann were overwhelmed by Brahms's music, and Robert used his influence to have a number of works by Brahms published and himself wrote an article declaring Brahms to be the new messiah of German music. Robert Schumann died in July 1856, but even though he loved her, Brahms decided he could not marry Clara. They remained friends for the rest of their lives. x
  • 4
    The Vagabond Years
    From 1857 to 1862, Brahms took various appointments and traveled but refused to take on a long-term professional position. The 1859 premiere in Leipzig of the Piano Concerto in D Minor was disastrous. The years conducting choirs in Hamburg were the key to Brahms's musical maturity. By 1860, Brahms had developed his mature musical voice—Romantic melody and harmony objectively constrained by Classical formal structures. x
  • 5
    Maturity
    Although Brahms's mature compositional style was conservative, his melody, harmony, and expressive content were entirely contemporary. His successes in the early 1860s lifted his spirits and fattened his wallet. He traveled to Vienna and settled into the musical life there, but in 1864, his mother died, and Brahms grieved mightily. He began work on a piece that would stand as a memorial for the dead: A German Requiem, Brahms's longest work and an extraordinarily personal one. x
  • 6
    Mastery
    The years 1865 and 1866 were compositionally productive for Brahms, and in 1868, he triumphantly premiered A German Requiem, which would come to be the foundation of his compositional career. By the early 1870s, his position among German composers was considered equal to that of Liszt. His position as director of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna allowed him to study and conduct the music of his choosing and would ultimately bring him back to orchestral composition. x
  • 7
    The Tramp of Giants
    Brahms's Symphony no. 1 in C Minor ushered in a second golden age for the symphony that saw the composition of works by Dvorak, Mahler, and others. In 1877, Brahms completed his Second Symphony, the charming and lyric Pastoral Symphony. At this time in his life, Brahms was rich, famous, and was producing one genuine masterwork after another, including his monumental Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major. x
  • 8
    Farewells
    As Brahms entered his 50s, he was still healthy and maintained his creative powers. He produced a great deal of vocal music in the early 1880s, as well as his majestic Third Symphony. In 1885, his brilliant Fourth Symphony was triumphantly premiered. He also produced songs, sonatas, a trio, and a double concerto. But when Clara Schumann died in 1896, Brahms was devastated. His own health deteriorated, and he succumbed to cancer of the liver on April 3, 1897. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Brahms—His Life and Music is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 57.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Greenberg is exceptional I greatly enjoyed listening to this course, and it is easily equal to Prof. Greenberg's course on Beethoven. His enthusiasm is infectious and his passion for understanding the man behind the music is refreshing and enjoyable.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captures the essence Thanks, Dr. Greenberg, for another entertaining and informative bio on the great composers. For a total amateur, like myself, in the world of classical music, you have a way of bringing these people to life by your depth of knowledge of the people, the music and the history of the times. While you say in Lecture 1 that Brahms was a hard man to know, you sure did a good job of helping us know him! Also, as a bonus, I learned more about Clara Schumann from this bio than the Robert & Clara Schumann bio! Loved it!
Date published: 2017-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I just completed all nine sections of this course and I am impressed by the thoroughness and the scholarship of Professor Greenburg. He certainly captured the broad sweep of Brahms' life with the many details that help us to recognize and appreciate the person and the composer, a musical giant of the 19th century. Not only detailed and informative, Professor Greenburg presented each course in a lively and entertaining manner. Well done!
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from enlightening/enjoyable, one constructive comment On the whole, very enjoyable and sometimes enlightening. I thought the musical excerpts were well chosen and beautifully played. I especially liked hearing how the Sturm und Drang of Brahms' personal life colored the form and content of his oeuvre. I've been a great Brahms fan for many years and I much enjoyed the Professor's description of the arc of Brahms' life and how he remained true to his artistic vision despite the catcalls of his critics. I was reflecting on how his music would have been different if he had lived a pampered life a la Mendelsohn. My one constructive piece of advice for Professor Greenberg would be for him to invest in a German language pronunciation class. (Does Great Courses have German pronunciation course they could give him gratis???) For someone who appreciates the power of sound, he surely understands how jarring it is to hear these "clinkers" that distract from the flow of the course. ...almost makes you wonder what else in the course is not right or well-researched.....
Date published: 2016-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Realistic and Compassionate I have listened to this course several times because, as a performing musician and teacher, it deepens my understanding and ability to play Brahms. But you don't have to have been a music major to appreciate this biography! Greenberg is one of the most engaging professors of the Great Courses community. He helps us understand how the adult personality traits of Brahms began and evolved in his life. Well researched and taught with humor and grace-thank you, Professor Greenbererg!
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg is always good Robert Greenberg is a treasure. He always brings energy, humor and good information to every lecture. I have 4 or 5 of his courses and plan to get more.
Date published: 2016-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good and solid course I own a dozen Greenberg lectures. This was a good course, though not among his best. For my tastes, I would have liked even deeper analysis of Brahms' music and philosophy. I'd still recommend it though.
Date published: 2016-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Course I teach music and really learned quite a few things I can pass on to my students. I have other courses by Prof. Greenberg and enjoy them all. I do wish it was in video format though.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lullaby and...goodgrief! Audio download of my first 'Great Masters' lecture set. "JB (Brahms) we hardly knew you". What an apt title (for me) of the first lecture from Professor Greenberg. Other that knowing that Brahms had something to do with the children's tune "Lullaby and goodnight..." I knew nothing about Herr Brahms or the classics, for that matter. My idea of the classics was limited to music from the 1960's, certainly not the 1860's. Greenberg (or can I call him Bob) presents a set of well-organized lectures that weaves together a brief biography with examples of contemporaneous music composed during his career. From his early professional life playing piano in the bars and brothels of Hamburg to the concert halls of Vienna, Bob manages to generate a genuine interest in trying to understand both the man and his music, by inserting snippets of music with the narrative..always with great energy and humor. But the real reason for the 5 star rating is that, after listening to Lecture #7, I became curious about just what the heck was so great about Brahms' Symphony #1 (hey, it's only an hour or so long...just about as long as a Led Zeppelin album)...so I googled YouTube and found a performance by the Cleveland Symphony (with Welser-Most conducting) and was most impressed (get it?). I then moved on to Symphony #2 (Dresden Symphony, conducted by Thielmann) and was really blown away...first by recognizing the "Cradle Song" (aka 'Lullaby and Goodnight') melody in the first movement, and then the dynamic 4th movement...that really got me hooked! I then moved on to several hours of Brahms music...notably the Hungarian Dance #5 (you will recognize it) to the most impressive Cello Sonata #1, performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. The course is a good one standalone (good job, Bob)...but if you dig a little deeper, it becomes a great one. I look forward to the next 'Great Masters' lecture, when they go on sale and I have a coupon. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life and Times (Audio CD). As usual, Dr. Greenberg kept me entertained and informed on my long drives. The professor seems an enthusiastic admirer of Johannes Brahms, of whose music I knew very little at the start of this course. Dr. G. did an excellent job of balancing information about the life and times of the composer with enough information about the compositions to pique my interest in listening to more of his music. The Schumanns, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, and Antonin Dvorak also make a (sometimes very brief) appearance in the lectures. I think that a concert music enthusiast would benefit from hearing the little details of the mutual distain during his lifetime of the "classical" vs. "romantic" composers, as well as enjoying the overview of Brahms' life and compositions.
Date published: 2015-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner from Professor Greenberg I live in fear that I will finish all of Professor Greenberg's courses, so I won't have a new one to listen to. I am a huge fan of his original sense of humor (in this course, he talks about Brahms writing manifesto that is opposed to everything, including the designated hitter rule) and the depth of his analysis of scores. This course looks at some of Brahms less-known compositions, including the horn trio and some of his lesser-known piano music. He covers the German Requiem at some length, which I appreciated having sung it. He compares Brahms' piano concerto number 1 with Beethoven models, creating insights I had never had before. I discovered, to my dismay, that I didn't have recordings of the symphonies, so I bought those (along with a complete set of his piano music and trios). (The Great Courses music courses cause me to spend a lot of money at Amazon.... ) I found only two problems with these lessons. In some places, the volume of the music is lower than the volume of the lectures (I have had this complaint about several of the Great Courses), and Professor Greenberg refers to Louis von Beethoven. Of course, he knows what is right! I appreciate the translation of the sung texts at the back of the guidebook....my German is not adequate to translate some of them. All in all, this is a terrific course!
Date published: 2015-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most entertaining professor Very entertaining guy and interesting course material. I'm not even that into music and I couldn't put it down
Date published: 2014-07-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating! In this short series of lectures, Professor Robert Greenberg displays his characteristic energy and enthusiasm in linking Johannes Brahms’ musical compositions and biography. Although the emphasis is placed on life events rather than on musical analysis, references to musical works are abundant and the listener does not feel completely drowned in mundane details. As usual with Professor Greenberg’s lectures, it is very much worthwhile to insert into your playlist the works that are discussed (and that must be obtained from another source as only excerpts are provided by Teach12). Thanks to Professor Greenberg’s broad coverage, Johannes Brahms comes out as a much less angst-filled person than one would surmise from his well known symphonies. Much brighter works are underscored that include not only dances and waltzes but also the beautiful horn trio and clarinet quintet. Though it occasionally delves a bit too deeply in personal minutiae, this course will be of great interest to anyone wishing to improve his knowledge of musical history.
Date published: 2013-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Most Entertaining and Informative Course I don’t know much about music but, as many others maintain, I know what I like. I have listened to Brahms, enjoyed much that I heard, and understood that I had no real base for appreciation. I knew little about Brahms’ works, how they fit into his era, and what Brahms was like as a person. All of these matters were addressed by Professor Greenberg in eight highly entertaining forty-five minute lectures. I purchased this course on audio download 18 months ago and have listened to it twice, most recently this past Spring. I am very glad that I got this course; it is a pleasant way to develop an appreciation for a composer. The course includes an exceptional narrative on Brahms’ life and works as well as actual selections from those works critiqued by a personable and accessible expert. This beats the prospect of reading some lengthy biography and, in the case of Professor Greenberg, adds a lot of fun to the process. Professor Greenberg is not only very knowledgeable about Brahms, his world, and his music, but he is also very entertaining, making for enjoyable listening by adding drama and (sometimes, heavy-handed) humor throughout. Professor Greenberg treats Brahms’ horrible early years (born in Hamburg’s red-light district), his relationship with the unfortunate Schumanns (exploring, in particular, that with Clara), and his later years of success. I learned a good deal from this course about the transition from the 18th century to 19th Romanticism and beyond, and how Brahms achieved a “… brilliant combination of the direct and personal voice of nineteenth-century Romanticism with the intellectual discipline and formal structures of the Classical and even Baroque eras” (Course Guidebook introduction). Professor Greenberg does an excellent job in discussing Brahms’ place in these developments, as well as his relationships with other composers, notably for me, Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner. Professor Greenberg elaborates on Brahms’ eccentricities and provides very interesting observations about his music. In this last regard, the sixty selections from Brahms’ works included extended selections from all four of his symphonies. Professor Greenberg carefully describes the context of Brahms’ compositions, their reception, and their significance. He also points out his particular favorites among Brahms’ works, which has prompted me to start with those in my follow up. (I am also going to get some other TC courses by Professor Greenberg.) I looked forward to listening to the course lectures and regretted when they were coming to an end. In a six months or so, I’ll likely go for a third time! You won’t go wrong on this course.
Date published: 2013-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful I've taken 5 or 6 of Prof Greenberg's courses and have really enjoyed each one. He's a superb, enthralling and funny lecturer, and he really knows and loves music and composers. This is the first of his courses which I have taken that focuses more on the man than the music. That's as the course was billed; this is "Brahms - His Life and Music", not "The Music of Brahms". Greenberg does a masterful job of an insightful and touching biography of Brahms as a person and as his work evolved. Unlike Greenberg's other courses that focus mainly on music, this one really is focused on Brahms' life, which I really enjoyed learning more about.
Date published: 2013-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great introduction to Brahms--buy the CD It was interesting to find out more about the man. I knew very little about Brahms' life and was fascinated with his generosity and caring of others. Learned a lot. Buy the CD. The DVD has little else to offer.
Date published: 2013-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Brahms I listened to the CD version of this course and found it to be interesting, enlightening, and entertaining. My limited knowlege of Brahms was significsnly enhanced. Professor Greenberg was an incredibly engaging and entertaining presenter. I got through the course very quickly and looked forward to listening and didn't mind the traffic jams to and from work.
Date published: 2012-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The third B in perspective As I've mentioned in my other reviews of Prof. Greenberg's courses, I am a trained musician with a lot of previous study in music history and literature. Yet, the Prof always manages to teach me new things, and open up pieces that I thought I knew well. Especially useful to me was the biographical component of the course, expanding what I knew about Brahms's early life and his long-term relationship with Clara Schumann. My only musical "beef" is that the Prof played snips of most of the "German Requiem" but left out JB's most amazing piece: "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place." (PS - I used the audio download version of the course which was on sale for a great price, and was thoroughly adequate!)
Date published: 2012-08-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Son of Beethoven The mature Brahms picks up where Beethoven left off. Like Robert Schumann before him, Brahms' youthful effort were often examples of pure Romantic excess, but in his maturity, he synthesized Classical forms with Romantic techniques, and to my ears, the results were very pleasing. This was a fantastic course to watch after the courses on Robert and Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt, as the lives and music of these characters often intersect. Brahms had a close relationship with Clara Schumann during Robert's convalescence and after his death, so in many ways, this biography also acts as a sequel to the Schumann biography. Likewise, it was interesting to hear a biography of Liszt that treated him sympathetically before meeting him again in this course, but now playing a more villainous role - the head of a Romantic school opposed to Brahms' efforts. As an aside, I wonder if Greenberg couldn't be strong-armed into recording for us a biographical treatment of Schubert and Mendelssohn, as I wonder if I'm missing some important link in the gap between Beethoven and Brahms. Wouldn't mind a Chopin course, either. Overall, I've been enjoying all the Great Masters 'Life and Music' courses - taken together, they form a nice Music History and Appreciation course.
Date published: 2012-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Definitive Brahms Overall, this is a must for any classical/romantic music lover, particularly those interested in the German school. Prof Greenberg begins with Brahms' formative years, as a poor piano player for a Hamburg brothel. He makes a good case for this explaining his life long problems with developing female friendships. He also goes into his relationship with Clara and Robert Schumann, which is also covered in the Schumann course. There is a bit of overlap here with other courses which cover Brahms, but in this case repetition is good. Major works which are covered and recommended include German requiem, his Lieder particularly the cradle song Wiegenlied (which may be his most famous melody), the piano quartets op 25, 26, and 60, the quintet for strings in G major, and the clarinet quintet in B minor. Sometimes a bit too much talking and not enough music, but still highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfection Marvelously entertaining and informative, this must surely rank as one of the finest lectures the company offers, and I've heard many. Bravo, Professor Greenberg! Don't hesitate, folks. Get this course immediately. Brahms comes to life in all his glory.
Date published: 2011-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Absolute Pleasure I enjoyed every minute of this course. It was especially wonderful after completing Dr. Greenberg's courses on the Schumanns and Wagner. I found myself smiling and laughing out loud as I listened to the professor's descriptions of Brahms' exploits. One need not complete the other courses first to realize the pleasures of this course. The beauty and artistry of the music comes to life. Do yourself a favor and put this course in your cart now!
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful Course In this course, Greenberg deftly portrays Brahms's inner tensions and contradictions and weaves them into the narrative sweep of his life in an almost effortless way. The focus is on biography first: the analysis of individual pieces of music is usually brief, but it is adequate to get a sense of how it works and why it is memorable. I came away feeling more informed about Brahms's life and music, and their nineteenth-century context. Greenberg is a masterful storyteller and explainer. I was always eager to get back to the lectures after having had to put them down. That is, perhaps, the best indicator of a successful course.
Date published: 2011-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I enjoyed it Like all Greenbergs’s Great Masters, this is a great course. I have already mentioned elsewhere that Robert Greenberg is a wonderful teacher. He is the master of the subject and he is able to present it in a light, yet comprehensive way. Brahms is an important guy in the history of music. He is one of the 3 B’s – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. He was a prodigy and exhibited great talent early in life. Thankfully, his parents were able to arrange for him to get some musical education. He was thrust into the limelight too early, thanks to Robert Shumann. Who knows how his career would have developed where it not for this early notoriety and inevitable comparison to the great Beethoven. But he did OK in the end. Too bad he was so reserved about his life and destroyed so many personal documents, we could have known so much more about him. But Robert Greenberg makes his story interesting and exciting, so I felt bad when it ended. I wish there were more musical examples and more analysis of the musical samples, but it was a very good overview of the life and music of Brahms.
Date published: 2011-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A teutonic prankster DVD review. Of all the biographies in the Great Masters series, the Brahms one stands out for the clear picture it gave me of the man and his art. Brahms is not an easy life to dramatise. He was a creature of habit who matured slowly and never married, preferring instead to work alone. His musical style was very inventive within the limits of the classical and romantic traditions he inherited from Beethoven. He was instinctively a private, conservative man. Eventually, he decided to shape his image for posterity and burned most of his letters and papers. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, you may wonder. He may seem like an extreme introvert. Let me add however that he loved Clara Schumann as his Muse and remained a bit of a child all his life in his fondness for practical jokes. It is a tribute to Dr Greenberg that he emerges a living, breathing composer. I very much appreciate Brahms’ First Symphony (heavy, stereotypically Germanic), but I looked to this biography for insights into his chamber music. I found what Greenberg had to say very instructive. So I recommend this biography if you are a fan of classical music with a taste for details that shed light on a unique time and sensibility.
Date published: 2011-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful and Stimulating Prof. Greenberg does an excellent job with Brahms. His psychological portrait is deft and insightful, covering the seamy, raucus childhood environment and the frustrations and friendships of adulthood. His discussion of the the various musical works is superb, as he fits Brahms' development as a composer.into his life story. Brahms is, in my view, one of the less accessible of the great composers. This course greatly increased my interest, appreciation and understanding of Brahms and caused me to seek out his works. I have listened to most of the Great Masters Series, and this was one of the best-- a near-perfect blend of biography and music.
Date published: 2010-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A memorable experience In spite of the first15 minutes, this is an outstanding course. It's more than a course actually. It's absorbed like a narration, like a story, which makes it literally unforgettable. The delivery is superb. The mix of biographical details with musical insights is perfectly balance. The passion of the teacher is palpable and contagious, even for those of us already Brahms fans. At the end of the course you are left longing for more. I wish the first thing we hear in the course weren't that Brahms is stereotypically considered a serious and rigid german. I never had thought of Brahms that way, and the stereotype should be kept alive by fighting it. One more thing. The musical samples would get the best of Brahms if the orchestral pieces were played at a faster tempo. But this is a matter of taste:) This is a memorable course. Thank you for the experience.
Date published: 2010-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hits the sweet spot It's a valid question: "Should professors whose primary training has been music should be writing historical biography?" In the realm of classical music, we have quite a lot of it.And it's natural enough; many of us adore the music of our favorite composers and it is natural we want to read (and, if we have the time and inclination) write about our heroes. From a marketing point of view, we are more apt to recognize the name of a famous conductor or musician than we are a noted musical scholar. A "musical person" such as professor Greenberg is going to bring a certain informality that would make most historians blush. As a listener, we are the better for this. Dr. Greenberg's delivers with his usual zest, and the story contains enough fascinating details for several biographies. The scholarship seems solid, the musical selections excellent. A great story told well. When I was finished with the course, I found myself completely satisfied with it. Top notch.
Date published: 2010-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brahms the Magnificent Brahms is certainly one of the greatest composers, and this wonderful lecture set serves him well. The great man had a bizarre childhood and a strange, moody life, all of which Professor Greenberg illuminates vividly. This is one of the very best of the professor's "Great Master" series and I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys classical music even remotely. You will be enthralled. For the complete story, be sure as well to get Professor Greenberg's "Great Masters" biography of Robert and Clara Schumann. The two lecture sets make a natural pairing. For best effect, listen to the Schumanns' moving story first. Brahms' career was supported and intimately connected with the Schumanns' lives. (Brahms loved Clara Schumann and was her lifelong friend.) As with all of Professor Greenberg's courses the audio CDs work very well. Happy commuting!
Date published: 2009-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg at his Best Great Masters: Brahms - His Life and Music Taught by Robert Greenberg 8 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture Dr. Greenberg is one of the most prolific and popular speakers in the Teaching Company Collection. He is both a renowned scholar of music history and a composer in his own right, having had his own music recorded and performed worldwide. His many music courses with TTC include "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", "The Symphony", "The Concerto" among many many others. This course titled "Brahms—His Life and Music" is one of ten courses highlighting the life and music of major classical composers from Hayden to Shostakovich. The courses in this series are interesting in that they emphasize the importance of the composers lives and the historical context in which the music was created. In this lecture series on Brahms, the viewer will understand why Brahms is now such a difficult man to understand. Brahms was a man of distinct contradictions, living a quite frugal existence dispite having achieved a rare degree of fame and success during his lifetime. Yet he was quite generous with those in need around him. While his wit could be quite harsh and biting, he was a dedicated and trustworthy advocate. While he wrote light dance music, he composed the most sublime orchestral music known. Dr. Greenberg notes that Brahms was so self critical and perfectionistic that he destroyed all his music that he deemed not worthy. Therefore we are left with essentialy only masterpieces from which to judge the composer. Likewise Brahms destroyed most of his corespondences and notes, hampering a thorough understanding of him both personaly and as a composer. Dr. Greenberg has selected superb examples from the musical of Brahms and does a superb job in the discussion of the examples chosen. Dr.Greenberg has done a great job presenting the life and work of one of the most interresting and original musical composers to follow in the footsteps of Mozart and Beethoven. Dr. Greenberg is at his best in this course and provides examples of the composer's work with his keen insight and analysis.
Date published: 2009-04-28
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