To some people, Brahms has been seen as something of an enigma in the course of music development. The Romantic movement was well underway in the first half of the 19th century, set in early motion by Beethoven and then kindled by Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Schumann, before being transformed by Liszt, Verdi and Wagner. It seemed like all composers of the day, despite differences in style and scale, were united in seeking a new freer means of expression. Brahms however chose the stricter conventions of the classical period, and as a result received much criticism from his more adventurous peers and later composers. Yet Brahms demonstrated time and again that it wasn't necessary to abandon the old forms in forwarding the ideals of Romanticism.
Compared to many musicians and composers, Brahms was a late developer. Brahms' early music career was as a pianist giving recitals in his late teens and 20s, and his exceptional skills on this instrument brought him attention from the violinist Joachim, and Robert and Clara Schumann who were to befriend him. It was not until he reached his 30s that he began to compose with any regularity, and his first Symphony was complete in 1876 at the age of 43. Part of this reticence was the enormous historical figure of Beethoven in whose musical footsteps Brahms was to follow, and indeed his music was compared to Beethoven to the extent that the first Symphony was dubbed "Beethoven's 10th". Having put those first tentative steps behind him, Brahms went on to compose many great works in the remaining 2 decades of his life. His legacy is the melding of form and content, of powerful expression yet great economy.
For an insight into Brahms the composer and pianist, we recommend our review of a recording of his piano music played on period pianos. The review called Historical Timbres is by Jeffrey Dane and contains a wealth of historical detail.
There are currently 3 pieces representing Brahms' output on mfiles:
From Brahms' significant range of chamber music, here is the 1st movement from his Sonata No.1 for Cello and Piano (Op.38) with PDF sheet music and individual parts for cello and piano. You can also download this as a MIDI file or as an MP3 file.
Brahms' Lullaby (No.4 from his 5 Lieder or songs Op.49) is available in several versions: the Original Song with alternative parts so that it can be played as an instrumental by a variety of instruments with piano accompaniment, and different arrangements for Easy Piano or Guitar. All these versions include scores (and parts where appropriate) with midi and mp3 files).
Here are some further links to good sheet music by Brahms:
These albums provide a selection of Brahms' major and best-loved works: