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Paul Allen Sommerfeld, Ph.D.
Music Reference Specialist
Created: January 28, 2020
Last Updated: June 7, 2021
The Library of Congress Music Division holds one of the most significant collections in the world for the composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). These collections include over 50 of Brahms's own music manuscripts and over 200 pieces of Brahms's correspondence. The Music Division has acquired the vast majority of these items through the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation collection, established in 1936.
Some of the most important manuscripts represented include the Third Symphony, Horn Trio, Piano Quintet, Violin Concerto, and Schicksalslied. But the first Brahms holograph manuscripts acquired by the Music Division were pieces from two of his most beloved piano works: the Op. 118, no. 1 Intermezzo in A minor and Op. 119, no. 1 Intermezzo in B minor. The Music Division purchased these manuscripts in 1913, just 16 years after Brahms's death.
Access these materials and more through the Performing Arts Reading Room and online. In addition to music manuscripts and correspondence, the Music Division's Brahms collections include early and first editions of music scores, critical editions, facsimiles, scholarly literature, correspondence, special collections, iconography, and access to a variety of subscription databases.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Brahms spent much of his professional life as a composer, pianist, and conductor in Vienna, Austria. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. He worked with leading musicians of his time, including the composer and pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms first began to receive broader acknowledgement for his works in the 1860s, including his large choral work, Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), op. 45. His Symphony no. 2 in D major, op. 73 and Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 also received great praise. In the years preceding his death, Brahms composed his final cycles of piano pieces, Opp. 116–119 and the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121. The Op. 121 was prompted by the death of Clara Schumann and dedicated to the artist Max Klinger, a great admirer of Brahms.
Brahms's influence on other composers has and continues to reach far and wide, including composers well represented in the Music Division's collections, such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alexander von Zemlinsky.
The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the collections in the custody of the Music Division at the Library of Congress. Numbering approximately 20.5 million items and spanning more than 1000 years of Western music history and practice, these holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and close to 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.