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The Three B’s
Entrenched in Musical Tradition

The Three B’s
  • Beethoven (by )
  • Johann Sebastian Bach : His Life, Art, A... (by )
  • Furioso; Or, Passages from the Life of L... (by )
  • Johannes Brahms, A Biograhical Sketch (by )
  • Bach (by )
  • Beethoven (by )
  • Brahms (by )
  • Bach (by )
  • Beethoven (by )
  • Brahms (by )
  • Johannes Brahms (by )
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The fundamental components in learning or experiencing classical music begin with The Three B’s. Though composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms have been gone for more than a century, students, scholars, and classical music aficionados analyze their works and recordings to better understand the creation of these masterful compositions.

Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 31st, 1685, was a German composer who continued the familial traditions of musicianship. His father Johann Ambrosius Bach was the director of the town musicians in Eisenach and taught his son to play the violin and harpsichord before leaving that son an orphan at the tender age of 10. After his father died (just eight months after the passing of his mother), Bach lived with his eldest brother Johann Christoph Bach who continued to develop his talents, teaching him the clavichord and introducing him to more contemporary music.

Bach continued the expansion of his musical prowess, leaving his eldest brother’s home at 15 to study at the revered St. Michael’s School in Luneburg for two years. There, he was exposed to a wider range of European culture, as the sons of German aristocrats were sent to the school to pursue their own disciplines. 

His instructors were amazed by the well-trained teenager intent on becoming a master of his craft. He became infatuated with the famous organ at St. John’s Church, and spent countless hours practicing and composing his own works. After his death, a 19th century Bach Revival led many to consider him one of the greatest composers of all time. German musician and musical historian Johann Nikolaus Forkel describes Bach’s incredible impact in his biography Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work.
Ludwig van Beethoven, born December 16th, 1770, was another incredibly successful and influential composer, known for his virtuosity on the piano. Like Bach, Beethoven showed unparalleled skilled at an early age under the tutelage of his father, Johann van Beethoven. At the age of 21, Beethoven relocated to Vienna where he gained his reputation as a preeminent pianist. 

While Beethoven excelled in Vienna, his mother’s illness (which led to her death soon after) prompted him to return to his birthplace of Bonn. His father had sunken deep into alcoholism, leaving young Beethoven to care for his younger siblings for the next five years. 

Though he did not fancy himself solely a composer, Beethoven, upon returning to Vienna to continue his practice, found a void in the death of his hero Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Scholars believe the two met, although have have no concrete evidence). He thrived, but began to lose his hearing shortly after his return. From that point, he concentrated on composing music. Biographer Wolfgang Wilhelm Muller Von Konigswinter details the  trials and successes of Beethoven in Furioso; Or, Passages from the Life of Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Johannes Brahms, the third “B” (coined by conductor and author Hans Von Bulow), was another German born composer and pianist. He was born May 7th, 1833, but his family wasn’t as musically entrenched as his predecessors. His father, Johann Jakob Brahms, became a musician against the wishes of his family. He become a success and relocated to Hamburg. Johannes was first taught to play the violin and cello, but took greater interest in the piano. At just ten years old, Brahms debuted at a private concert, playing the compositions by both Beethoven and Mozart. 

Performance did not fulfil him. While his parents and early instructors believed he would have greater success playing, he continued to compose his own works. This deviation would be a constant theme in his musicianship; during his later years Brahms pined for the conductorship of the Hamburg Philharmonic, but realized, even after he was offered the position, that he was destined to traverse more difficult paths. 

Eventually Brahms, like his predecessors, made Vienna his home during the Romantic Period. In 1863, he was appointed conductor of the Vienna Singakademie. He cemented his legacy of innovative compositions steeped in traditional styles. Musicologist Hermann Deiters writes about his vast influence in the biography Johannes Brahms: A Biographical Sketch

The World Public Library offers numerous biographies about “The Three B’s,” as well as comprehensive lists of the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms

By Logan Williams

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