The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are we hearing more Brahms? If so, why? | October 7, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got to thinking about concerts, recordings and Wisconsin Public Radio programs over the past year and the ones coming up this season.

And it seems like there was a lot of music by Johannes Brahms (below), often given multiple performances – the “German” Requiem, the symphonies and concertos, the solo piano music, the string quintets and sextets, and the piano trios and other chamber music with piano.

This season alone, in Madison we will hear three performances of the famous Piano Quintet. Two of them will be in the usual version at the Wisconsin Union Theater (the Takacs Quartet with pianist Garrick Ohlsson) and at Farley’s House of Pianos (the Pro Arte Quartet with pianist Alon Goldstein), and, recently, the earlier two-piano version at Farley’s by Robert Plano and Paola Del Negro. (You can hear the gorgeous slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Now it is true that Brahms is one of the standard composers who never really go out of fashion, especially for the way he combined the craft and polyphony of Classicism with a Romantic sensibility. Not for nothing was he lumped in with Bach and Beethoven.

Also true is that Brahms is often described as “autumnal” and fits the concert season.

But not everyone loves Brahms. The British composer Benjamin Britten hated his music and the American crime writer James Ellroy also can’t stand Brahms.

Still, it seems to The Ear that we are hearing more than the usual amount of Brahms.

And if that is true, he wonders, why is it the case? Why does Brahms appeal so?

Is there something in Brahms that matches the times we live in?

Or perhaps something that reassures and consoles us about the times we live in?

Anyway, do you think we are hearing more Brahms?

And if you do, what do you think explains it?

Finally, if you like Brahms what is your favorite piece by Brahms?

Tell us in COMMENTS and provide a link to an audio or video clip is possible

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Love the suggestion about the lullaby. My mother sang it to me and my siblings. The Brahms quintet we heard this week was a very interesting composition, that rewarded careful listening, not always stimulated by other composers.

    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — October 8, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

  2. Unsure if I remember precisely, but my favorite Brahms is the French horn quartet in his First Symphony? I think the Principal horn hits written high C. I really like his chamber music that uses piano too.

    Comment by buppanasu — October 7, 2017 @ 8:49 am

  3. People tire of hearing Beethoven. Brahms is the torchbearer of the Beethoven tradition. A constructionist who builds his music from ideas both grand and small.

    If you want a metaphor for our times, there is no better one than the opening to his 4th symphony.

    Comment by Augustine — October 7, 2017 @ 7:28 am

  4. I guess it started when my father would sing me Brahms’ lullaby at bedtime.
    Today, the beauty of his music is a tranquilizer that takes me far away from the ugliness of the political scene. It restores me.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — October 7, 2017 @ 6:04 am


    Comment by Terry Baer — October 7, 2017 @ 3:31 am

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