Brahms was the author of no opera; but as Josef Weiss says, "dramas, dramatic scenes, comedies, epics and tales in music he poured forth in profusion." In 1863 he published two piano quartets, the following year a number of vocal compositions, among them two volumes of songs, the wonderful Wie bist du, Meine Königen appearing this year. To 1865 belong the Piano Quintet in F minor and the first two books of Romances from Tieck's Magelone. Late in the year Brahm engaged in a concert tour in Germany that added to his renown. In October of 1866 he made a short tour with Joachim in German Switzer-land. In January of 1867, in Vienna, the G major Sextet was given its first production, this work being followed by the Paganini Variations, a set of waltzes, and the Soldatenlieder. And then came the great German Requiem, which at first met with much criticism from the theologians, a funeral ode rather than a requiem mass. Performed at Bremen Cathedral, on Good Friday, 1868, it drew musicians from far and near, among the most famous Joachim and Madam Schumann. Today the German Requiem is regarded as Brahms' best monument.
Following the publication of five volumes of songs and the last three books of Romances from Tieck's Magelone, came a period of rest; then the first two books of Hungarian dances. In 1871 appeared the splendid Triumphlied, written in celebration of the German victory in the Franco-Prussian struggle; and the marvelous Schicksalslied. These two works with the Requiem and the Rhapsodie for alto solo and male chorus, observes Grove, "mark the culmination of Brahms' art as a choral writer. In one and all he touches a point of sublimity that had not been reached since Beethoven."
From 1872 to 1875 Brahms held the important post of conductor to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In this period he produced a quantity of work; numerous songs, duets and choruses; the Piano Quartet in C minor; and a set of orchestral variations. In 1876 appeared the Symphony in C minor; the ensuing year the D major Symphony; this followed by the magnificent Violin Concerto, which played by Joachim on its first presentation met with a remarkable demonstration. Brahms' Third Symphony, considered the finest of his instrumental works for orchestra, was produced at Vienna in 1883, then came the Symphony in E minor. Of his other work mention should be made of the Quartet in B flat; additional series of songs and pieces for the piano; the Violin Sonata in G; a second set of Hungarian dances; the Academic Festival Overture written for the Breslau degree; the Tragic Overture; the Piano Concerto in B flat; the String Quartet in F; the Violoncello Sonata in F; the Violin Sonata in A; two concerted compositions for clarinet; the Double Concerto; the C minor Piano Trio; the Violin Sonata in D minor; a second String Quartet; and two volumes of motets.
No little of Brahms' work is censured for its over-intellectuality and the author's lack of appreciation of the purely sensuous side of music. But these faults sink into the back-ground in a wide survey of his contribution. Of Brahms' scope Hadow writes: "Do we want breadth? There is the Sextet in B flat, the Second Symphony, the Piano Quartet in A. Do we want tenderness? There is the Minnelied, there is Wie bist du, Meine Königen, there is the first Violin Sonata. Is it simplicity? We may turn to Erinnerung, to Sonntag, to the later pianoforte pieces. Is it complexity? We have the Symphony in E minor, the four Concertos, the great masterpieces of vocal counter-point." And continuing the thought of Brahms' moods of beautiful simplicity, Hadow adds: "In Shakespeare it often happens that we come across a line where there is nothing unusual in the thought, nothing recondite in the language, nothing but the simplest idea expressed in the simplest words, and yet when we read it we feel at once that it could have been said in no other way, and that it can never be said again. And, in his own art, Brahms too has this gift of making simplicity memorable."
Brahms as a song-writer demands special attention. Grove says: "As with all the greatest lyrical writers, love-songs form by far the largest and most important section of Brahms' vocal works, and here his finest qualities come constantly into view. The set of fifteen romances from Tieck's Magelone exhaust every mood of the lover's emotion, and no one has ever given more sincere, sustained, or truly passionate expression to the rapture of crowned love than is to be found in these songs." The number of solo songs with piano accompaniment is about two hundred,
sixty or more being in folk-song style. Of his range as a song-writer, Weiss enumerates songs of fate; the love-songs; hero songs; a Requiem, a Funeral Song; the Twenty-third Psalm; the Marienlieder, German songs relating to the worship of the Virgin; motets; spiritual songs; trios; duos; quartets; a drinking glee; waltz for quartet and piano; gipsy songs; and grave songs.