Johannes Brahms: His Life and Music

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Duration 01:06:29

Brandeis University

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist who lectures widely at Brandeis University and additional venues on topics ranging from renaissance motets to atonal opera. A piano accompanist and vocal coach, Professor Harel’s musical interests range from western classical repertoire to musical theater and jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and at CUNY Baruch College, where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.”



Johannes Brahms was over 40 years old when he published his first symphony. Asked by his publisher why its composition was taking so long, Brahms responded by describing the difficulty of composing music in the “shadow of that giant” – a direct allusion to Beethoven. Indeed, of all the composers of the 19th century, none would invite comparison to “the maestro” as much as Johannes Brahms. Later dubbed the “Keeper of the Classical Flame,” this ambitious composer grew up in Hamburg and may have first worked as a teenage pianist in the brothels of an infamous red-light district. A meeting with Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853 would change his life and accelerate his rise to greatness. Often described as a “conservative” composer who eschewed newer compositional techniques, a close investigation of Brahms’ music reveals that such designations miss the mark. During the program, Professor Gil Harel will delve into the remarkable life and music of this German composer, and in doing so, challenge traditional perceptions associated with his legacy.


Recommended Reading:

Johannes Brahms: A Biography, by Jan Swafford

Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, by Styra Avins

The Schumanns and Johannes Brahms: The Memoirs of Eugenie Schumann, Daughter to Robert and Clara, by Eugenie Schumann






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Wendy Meer


Great job teaching us more about Brahms. Thank you

2 years ago
Karen Simmons


Professor Harel is insightful and well-versed in Brahm’s life and his place in music history. I only wish his lecture went on for another few hours.

2 years ago
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