Great Masters: Brahms—His Life and Music

Explore how Brahms found unique ways of combining the formal complexity of older Classical genres with the melodic inventiveness, harmonic sophistication, and expressive richness of the Romantic Age.
Great Masters: Brahms—His Life and Music is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 60.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Subject, Enthusiastically Presented Professor Robert Greenburg has a way of making you feel like he's not just describing a great master in the field of music, but rather like Brahms is a beloved older brother. I was introduced to the fascinating Brahms Professor Greenburg in his class "Music as a Mirror of History," which I also highly recommend. Prior to that, I can't say I knew much about Brahms beyond his famous Lullaby, but the introductory tell of his stint as a young accompanist for a virtuoso gypsy violinist along with the music sampled compelled me to learn more. I was rewarded with another outstanding course. I also took Greenburg's course on Mozart, and will probably take more soon. Ever since college, I have been fascinated to re-examine history through alternative viewpoints, such as through the prism of art or music, rather than simply examining war and politics. I highly recommend this course, even if just for the entertainment value, although you will learn a lot, too. It's a great alternative to an evening news show sandwiched between two other evening news shows. It's good happy hour or dessert with coffee entertainment at your computer screen.
Date published: 2021-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg Has Created a J.B. Fan Truth be told, I knew very little about Brahms when I bought this course. I knew the Lullabye. I knew the 1st Symphony, or at least the lush hymn part from the final movement. I knew the part of the 4th Symphony that Rick Wakeman played on Yes's "Fragile" album. And I knew... I knew... yeah, that's about it. Well, holy Hamburg, Batman. What a fascinating person Brahms was. And what a talent. The Great Masters courses are short, almost ridiculously short. There is only so much you can pack into a mere eight lectures. And yet, Greenberg packs in more than I would have thought possible at a normal rate of speech. But Professor Greenberg's real genius in this course is painting Brahms in all his complexity. He was at once a profoundly unpleasant and a profoundly admirable man, hard as flint and painfully tender, and this course manages to capture both aspects. Greenberg calls Brahms your best "foul-weather friend": the one who will be a merciless critic when the world adores you, but the first and most vociferous to come to your defense when you're down and getting kicked. A great deal of Brahms's difficult personality seems to me to have arisen from what can only be described as prolonged molestation throughout his childhood and youth. That's a difficult topic to treat without either sugar-coating or nauseating your audience, but Greenberg does a skillful job getting the point across without being graphic. And the music. Oh, my. Brahms resented being considered the "new Beethoven," but Joey my friend, if the Schuhe fits... After listening to this course (I recommend the audio if you have to choose - Greenberg deftly paints in words all the illustration you need), I had the good fortune to spend a week in Hamburg on a business trip. I carved out time to visit the Brahms museum and the church where he was baptized. I might have done that anyway, but this course made it so much more meaningful. Caution: Professor Greenberg's style is not for everyone. He's a lively lecturer who injects a lot of humor and what some listeners might consider Borscht Belt clowning. For me, it not only works, it enhances the learning experience. If your classical heroes must be flawless marble busts, if you can't take your Romantic Era with a healthy heapin' side dish of respectful irreverence, just walk on by, nothing to see here. But if you want to understand Johannes Brahms and the music he created, this is an outstanding place to start. Worth every penny.
Date published: 2021-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved the details of this course... I feel that the information about his life it’s relevant and super interesting. I can understand his music better now. The teacher it is engaging and keep the interest going Thanks for this amazing course
Date published: 2020-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good expose of Brahms This was my third course given by Professor Robert Greenberg. Again, I found his lectures stimulating. Brahms, the enigma, the onion was peeled away by Prof. Greenburg. I have a few of Brahms works and now I must get Symphony's No1 and 2 . I enjoyed the lectures.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Inviting overview Greenberg is a popular lecturer for The Teaching Company and it's clear why. He is exciting to listen to. Sometimes he's a bit too excited and compulsive for my taste, as in the very opening minutes of this series, when he bubbles on about some inconsequentials, like Brahms's cigar smoking. Greenberg's insights in Brahms's character and personality are especially enjoyable.
Date published: 2018-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Light shed on a great mysterious Master! I have purchased a number of the Great Masters courses over the years and when I bought Brahms, I honestly did not know what to expect. Wow, what a surprise! Robert Greenberg is one of my favorite lecturers, and I have thought many times how I would have loved to sit under his teaching when I was in college (now increasingly long ago). He opens with a great deal of biographical information on Brahms, which might be a negative sometimes, but in this case, I have to admit I was in the dark about this author of the lullaby. Brahms had a tough early life, and Greenberg does not step around the truth that his growing up around the brothels of Hamburg shaped his early on, and affected his personal relationships for the rest of his life. He also goes into great detail related to his relationship with Clara Schumann, both before and after Robert's death. Johannes Brahms is an enigma. A writer of beautiful music who was a pain to be around. A generous man to his family and others, but one with a cutting wit and a contrarian attitude all his life. Antonin Dvorak (whose Cello Concerto has to be in my 5 favorite pieces of music EVER) owed his career to Brahms. And then, Brahms's music. What a mind! I love his 3rd Symphony, and then there's Piano Concerto #2, "The Long Terror." His Violin Concerto is unbelievable, and it showcased his great friend the violinist, Joseph Joachim. I have to admit this is not an easy series to listen to because of some of the subject matter, but I gained an appreciation for this Romantic master, the great "subjective objectivist" of his time. I highly recommend this series of lectures. I now have several of Brahms pieces in my musical library. BRAVO!!
Date published: 2018-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Greenburg’s Great Masters’ Best I have now taken over 10 of Dr. Greenburg’s courses, including several of the “Great Masters” series. As usual, Dr. Greenburg combines quite a bit of biographical information about the selected composer, including his personal and professional relationships along with his music; both composed and performed. Once again when taking one of these courses, I am amazed about how little I know regarding a composer’s life and about music in general. While I am not, nor ever have been a musician, I have listened seriously to music my entire life and have really been fairly smug as to my layperson’s knowledge. For example I thought I knew all about the life-long relationship between Brahms and Clara Schuman. In just a few short minutes, I found how little I really knew (Brahms’ relationship with one of Clara’s daughters for example). Or that Brahms actually appreciated the music of Wagner, if not Liszt’s. And in the area of the music itself, I needed Dr. Greenburg to point out to me how Brahms combined elements of 18th century classic music with 19th century techniques. The objective with the subjective, as it were. Professor Greenburg suppresses his usual shtick to a marked degree in this course, to the point that I personally would have liked a bit more, although I well understand that others differ. In the end, I felt that I knew quite a bit about a man and musician, especially one who tried his best to not allow future generations to know anything about him other than his best music. Very well done, Dr. Greenburg.
Date published: 2018-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course Well done. Nice blend of music samples and history. This is my first course of great composers and I will surely study another.
Date published: 2018-06-06
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Great Masters: Brahms-His Life and Music is a course that links the complexities of this enduring Western composer with his electrifying works through biographical information and musical commentary. Join award-winning composer and Professor Robert Greenberg on an examination of how Brahms found unique ways of combining the formal complexity of older Classical genres with the melodic inventiveness, harmonic sophistication, and expressive richness of the Romantic Age. Among the many aspects of Brahms's life and career you explore are why he took 21 years to complete his first symphony; how he single-handedly started a second "golden symphonic age" in music; and how he breathed new life into chamber music at the age of 40.


Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


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, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

J.B., We Hardly Knew You!

01: 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.

48 min
The Brothels of Hamburg

02: 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.

45 min
The Schumanns

03: 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.

44 min
The Vagabond Years

04: 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.

45 min

05: 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.

45 min

06: 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.

46 min
The Tramp of Giants

07: 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.

47 min

08: 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.

47 min