Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: September 2011

2 - Years of transition: Brahms and Vienna 1862–1875

from Part I - Stages of creative development and reception


Brahms's first visit to Vienna towards the end of September 1862 is often taken as inaugurating the major professional change of his life: the move from provincial Hamburg, with its hard upbringing and limited opportunities, to the city of the classic masters, and his subsequent dominance of its musical life as their greatest successor. Yet the reality is otherwise. Brahms settled into Vienna only very slowly and it could not really be called his home for upwards of a decade. These years spanned a difficult transition in both professional and personal life as he sought a career path and a domestic identity. The fight to realise his artistic aims and ambitions, begun in Hamburg was to continue for long years. It was only when he finally became established as a financially independent composer in Vienna, by the mid-1870s, that he really found stability and routine for his composition; prior to this, a pattern emerged rather by default.

It is difficult to know what Brahms first expected of Vienna. He had several contacts in Hamburg who would have encouraged him to make what was still a long journey – for example the composer Carl Peter Grädener (1812–83) and Bertha Porubszky, a Viennese girl who had been a member of his choir – in addition to the wider circle of musicians who performed in Vienna, beginning with his intimates Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim. His first comments leave the issue open. He wrote shortly before leaving to his fellow composer Albert Dietrich, ‘I am leaving on Monday for Vienna! I look forward to it as a child. Of course I do not know how long I shall stay. We will leave it open and I hope to meet you some time during the winter. Pray do not leave me quite without letters’, leaving Dietrich some business addresses rather than a private one or hotel.