The Music of Johann Karl Brandeis

A Musical Course of Life


First line of the Preludium from 13 Sketches for Classical Guitar


Hans Brandeis (Johann Karl Brandeis) was born in Brno (Czech Republic) in 1910. His father was employed as a Reichsbahnrat, a higher position with the German Railways, his mother was a piano teacher. He grew up in Dechin on the Elbe (Tetschen an der Elbe) where he studied the violin with a local conductor by the name of Storch from the age of 13. In his youth he often used to make music as a pastime with his father, who also knew how to play the violin fairly well. Together, they played all kinds of compositions from classical musical literature, such as arias and overtures alike, set for two violins. His mother wanted to teach him the piano but at that time he was not interested. Only later on when he was already 17 years old did he make a start in learning how to play the piano by himself during school holidays. With the help of piano tutors available at that time he trained himself to be a pianist of medium standard in the course of time.

        After finishing secondary school (Gymnasium), he enrolled at the university in his home town, Brno, to study chemistry. He chose this profession to earn his livelihood, not with any actual reluctance but still without any deep emotional interest. For, since childhood his true love had been dedicated to music, and he certainly would also have preferred to study music. However, after he had achieved a certain background in chemistry, he started to enjoy this discipline because of the many interesting experiments he was confronted with. Aside from his studies, he regularly made music at home (Hausmusik). Together with the sister of his former German teacher Harmuth, who was a capable pianist, he played sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven and Grieg, among other works, undertaking the violin part himself.

        During all these years, Brandeis enjoyed writing Lieder, and he composed about 40 songs in a classicist romantic style, mostly simple art songs, sometimes with a flavor of German folk songs, movie songs or operattas of the 1930s. The oldest known manuscript of a Lied is dated 1929, when the young man had been playing the piano for just two years. In November and December 1934, when he was 24 years old, he composed two Lieder, “Altes Lied” (“Old Song”) and “Schlaflied” (“Sleeping Song”), which were performed by a singer from Dechin, Ms. Alice Horner, and broastcasted on Prague radio on June 13 and November 22, 1935. He called these songs “opus 7” and “opus 8”, respectively, thus clearly showing his enthusiasm about his early success. (Later on, he never identified his compositions by opus numbers anymore. All these Lieder represent the learning stage of the young composer, his first attempts in trying out techniques of composing. Later on, he rarely mentioned these early songs, and it seems that the first composition which he himself accepted as “serious“ was his “Sinfonietta for String Orchestra” from 1948.)

        After finishing his doctorate at the age of 25, Brandeis found employment in the town of Uzhgorod, near the Hungarian border, where he worked from 1935 to 1937. After his return to Tetschen, the residence of his parents, he looked for further employment. In December 1938, he went to Berlin to work at the chemical factory, Dr. Max Schlötter for one year, and in 1939 he found a position with the BASF in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine. His work there was only interupted during the war 1942-1944 when he was recruited by the German Wehrmacht (Armed Forces) and based in southern France. Subsequently, he returned to Ludwigshafen where he should work successfully until his retirement from the research department of the BASF. Many patents were registered in his name. During these working years, he became very active again in making Hausmusik with his violin: he played in duos, trios or quartets with befriended colleagues (e.g. with Dr. Fried who played piano), again sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven and similar music.

In the late 1930s

It was only after World War II when living conditions had improved enough that Brandeis, turned 35 meanwhile, found more time for training intensively to be a composer. He acquired his knowledge of composition self-taught for the most part, but he also took private lessons for some time with Wolfgang Wolfgarten, a composer and choir-master from Ludwigshafen. During these studies, Brandeis was concerned with the theoretical works of Hindemith, Rimsky-Korsakov and Berlioz, among others, and he closely examined the works of Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Fortner, Stravinsky, Britten and Henze – influences which partly can also be heard in his later works. During these years, Brandeis went through a process of radical re-orientation from late romantic towards contemporary atonal music. But even in his compositions of contemporary music, Brandeis always looked for melody and a kind of emotional harmony within dissonance. In that sense, the expressive character of his music was often influenced by the musical mentality of his homeland, by a certain Slav melancholy. In 1948, this personal development of Brandeis as an artist led to his first major composition, “Sinfonietta for String Orchestra,”still in a late romantic style which was recorded and broadcasted by the Süddeutscher Rundfunk (“Southern German Radio”) at Stuttgart in 1951.

        Hans Brandeis, despite of all his professional obligations which left him little time for his passion of composing, produced a rather large oeuvre: three symphonies and other compositions for grand orchestra with additional solo instruments, especially chamber music for small ensembles, several string quartets, a number of Lieder with piano accompaniment and compositions for piano solo. Some of his compositions, especially the string quartets, Lieder and piano compositions, were repeatedly broadcasted on the German radio in the 1960s; the majority of his works, however, especially compositions for larger ensembles, have not been performed to the present day. The main reason for this may lie in the fact that Brandeis, because of his self-taught musical education, i.e. without any assoziation with any music school, conservatory or teacher, and, additionally, because of his strong tendency towards being a rather solitary and isolated person, was not able to establish the nessecary personal contacts with congenial musicians, conductors and other representatives of “official” musical life. After several futile attempts to find musicians and ensembles for the performance of his works, his disappointment grew at the prospect that it should not be possible for him to listen even once to his complex orchestral works in live performance and to verify inasmuch the products of his artistic imagination would prove their value if confronted with their live interpretations. Therefore, temporarily, he gave up composing in 1967.

        In spring 1970, Brandeis was inspired by his son Hans who, besides his university studies, was very active as a rock and jazz guitarist at that time and who also had published records of his own music, to make another try and to write some music for classical guitar. This resulted in “13 Skizzen für Konzertgitarre” (“13 Sketches for Classical Guitar”). These short pieces resume the musical quality of Brandeis’ former work. For their performance, Martin Lill, a gifted young guitar and lute player from the Mannheim area had been envisioned. Shortly before the recording session for broadcasting, however, Lill incurred a chronic thecitis, and again, another work of Brandeis could not be performed at that time. This meant the final stroke for Brandeis who now ended his main creative period as a composer. From that time on, he only played for his own personal pleasure, although almost every day, piano standards, preferably Chopin – musically worlds apart from his own musical oeuvre.

In the late 1970s

It was in 1987, after an interruption of 17 years, when Hans Brandeis took up composing again – most likely in a presentiment of his own approaching death. First of all, he worked on melodic material from his early works of the 1930s and also revised many of these old compositions. Within a rather short time, he finished a number of piano compositions and Lieder as well as a string trio. In May 1988, Hans Brandeis for whom music meant his life and, at the same time, the main disappointment of his life died at the age of 78 years, after suffering from a long illness. Some days before his death, already half in delirium, he still tried to write on music-paper.

[Text written and translated from German into English by Hans Brandeis.
The German version of this life story of Johann Karl Brandeis is included with the
“13 Sketches for Classical Guitar” which can be downloaded by clicking here.]


You may also want to take a look at the 

LIST OF WORKS of Johann Karl Brandeis

Listen to some samples of 


in RealAudio format
Click on the links below:

Five Lieder Based on Poems by Lotte Rose and Else Lasker-Schüler

Six Short Compositions for Piano Solo

13 Short Pieces for Classical Guitar


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Created: Sunday, April 28, 1996
Updated: Tuesday, March 11, 2003


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