BRAHMS, PUCCINI, MAHLER
Johannes Brahms 1833-1897
Born in Hamburg. His father was an orchestral and
band musician; his mother came from a wealthy
family and had Brahms when she was 44.
He gave his first piano recital at 10
Composed pieces for his father’s band
As a youth, he was exposed to Hungarian gypsy
music as a result of the flight of many nationalist
rebels from Hungary after the Hungarian uprising of
He became fascinated with gypsy tunes and rhythms.
At 20, Brahms met Robert and Clara Schumann, with
whom he would remain friends for the remainder of his
Brahms settled in Vienna. He made a name for himself
as a pianist.
He mostly kept to himself.
He avoided innovative genres of modern music, such as
the symphonic poem and music drama, preferring
instead solo piano pieces, songs, choral works, chamber
music, concertos and symphonies.
A month after Clara’s funeral, Brahms was diagnosed
with cancer. He died on April 3, 1897 at age 64.
A Romantic who expressed himself in Classic and
sometimes Baroque forms
Avoided fashionable genres of the Romantic period
He wrote no program music
Composed four symphonies, 2 piano concertos
Brahms has been called a conservative composer because
of his adherence to models from the past, but his music is
Ex. His rhythms are complex and interesting. He uses
syncopation and a frequent use of mixed duple and triple
meters. His phrases are often irregular-expanded or
contracted from 4 or 8 bars
4th Movement from Symphony No. 4 in E Minor
Composed in 1885 for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2
bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3
trombones, timpani, full sting section
Based on a regularly repeating eight-measure harmonic
progression, known as passacaglia (a variation form that
was popular with Baroque composers)
The harmonic progression is not repeated strictly each time
but is used instead as a flexible point of departure.
In addition to the small-scale structure, Brahms organizes the
work by grouping the thirty variations into three large
sections. The middle section contrasts with the outer
sections; the third section includes some varied restatements
of earlier material. Thus, the large form is ABA’ with coda.
Follow along on pg. 304
Giacomo Puccini 1858-1924
Known as the greatest opera composer of the late
Grew up in Lucca, near Italy. He came from a long line of
composers: his father, grandfather, great-grandfather,
great-great-grandfather were all composers.
At 14, he became an organist at Lucca.
After hearing Verdi’s Aida, he decided to become an opera
Went to Milan to study. He got his first break when he
played and sang portions of one of his works at a private
An impresario and the head of the largest publishing firm
in Italy were there. They were so impressed that they
decided to publish and stage the opera
Became an instant success
He decides to write his own libretto.
At 35, he produced Manon Lescaut, which became
an instant success.
This was followed by La Boheme, Tosc, Madama
Butterfly and La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the
Puccini’s last opera, Turandot was not quite finished
when Puccini died in 1924. A colleague complete the
last two scenes and the first performance was given
in 1926 at La Scala in Milan
Only composed operas, “When I was born, the
almighty touched me with his little finger and said:
‘Write operas-mind you, only operas!’ And I have
obeyed the supreme command.”
Able to set a scene with just a few phrases of music
Trademark = doubling or tripling the vocal lines in
the orchestra, especially the strings
Composed modern harmonies, with some strong
dissonances, unexpected chord progressions or
used unusual scales such as the pentatonic.
“Un bel dì” (One Fine Day) from Madama Butterfly
Composed in 1904
Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (an American lieutenant) and Cio-
Cio-San (“Butterfly” a young Japanese girl) are married due to a
rental package of a Japanese house. (The woman comes with the
Treating the marriage as a casual affair, Pinkerton returns to
America after the wedding and marries an American woman shortly
Upon returning to Japan with his American bride three years later,
the deeply loyal Cio-Cio-San, in grief and humiliation, kills herself.
We will hear Butterfly’s aria “Un bel dì” She is trying to convince
herself that her husband will return to her. da capa aria (ABA)
Listen for the doubling and sometimes tripling of the vocal line in
the orchestra. Follow along on page 310
Gustav Mahler 1860-1911
Last great Romantic composer
Born in Bohemia of Jewish parents and made his career in
Germany and Austria.
At 10, he gave his first public piano concert
He lived near a military base and as a child he loved to
listen to the marching bands. (band music and marches of
all kinds can be heard in Mahler’s music. He also was
attracted to folk poetry and songs.
After studying history, philosophy and composition, Mahler
for the next twenty years made a living as a conductor. He
was known for being a unrelenting conductor
When the concert season was over in the summers, he
turned to composition and completed his first three
Vienna Opera House
This was the most important conducting position
available in Austria at the time.
Mahler seemed like the best choice, but he was Jewish,
Vienna was known for its anti-Semitism
In order to get the job, he was baptized as a Catholic
and appointed the position in 1897
Trouble: He was not well liked by his players because
he was so strict, there was considerable resentment
over his appointment, despite his religious conversion.
He finished many large scale works during this time
Marriage and Setbacks
Married to Alma Schindler in 1902. She later published books of
memoirs about her life with Mahler
In 1907 suffered three setbacks
The campaign against him in Vienna finally led to his resignation
from his job
His five year old daughter died of scarlet fever
Mahler found out that he had a heart condition
In 1908, he tried to change the direction of his life and was
appointed music director of the Metropolitan Opera and conductor
of the New York Philharmonic
During this time, Mahler was superstitious and afraid to finish his
Ninth Symphony, as both Beethoven and Schubert had died after
completing nine symphonies.
Mahler did finish his Ninth Symphony and began his Tenth, but in
1911, he fell ill and decided to return to Vienna, where he died at age
50. The Tenth Symphony was incomplete.
Tried to capture the whole world: nature, God, love and death,
exaltation and despair
To do this, he had to invent new musical genres and forms.
Most of his works are closely connected to song. (ex. 4 of his
symphonies include voices and song melodies find their way
into many of his instrumental works)
Orchestral Song Cycles – The typical Romantic song takes
on a completely new guise: In place of piano accompaniment,
Mahler uses the orchestra.
His harmony is quite unorthodox and he often ends a work in a
key different from the one in which it began. Some
symphonies are longer than any that had come before, ninety
minutes or more. He uses enormous orchestras in order to
achieve the sounds that he wanted from the orchestra
Most of his music is programmatic in some way
“Urlicht” (“Primeval Light”) from Symphony No. 2 in C Minor
Composed in 1888-94 for Alto voice; 2 piccolos, 3 flutes, 2 oboes,
English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3
trumpets, glockenspiel, 2 harps, and strings
The entire work lasts nearly 90 minutes and is in five
movements. It traces the spiritual journey from death to
This movement marks the beginning of Mahler’s lifelong
preoccupation with the blending of symphony and song.
It sets a song text and is sung by a solo alto voice with orchestra.
It centers around the eighth line of the text, “I am made by God
and will return to God”
The melodic shape is an upward curve followed by a slight fall,
typical of Mahler’s music. Listening Guide on page 314