The extent of Brahms' interest on dramatic music places his supposed antipathy towards modern opera, especially Wagner in a somewhat different perspective. Indeed, the traditional view of the Wagner-Brahms relationship must qualify as one of the classical examples of the kind of distortion referred to earlier, though it was already well advanced after Wagner's death, when Brahms despairingly questioned why he himself had been made an 'anti-pope'
[Brahms'] works were labelled old-fashioned by the 'New German School' whose principal figures included F. Liszt and Wagner. Brahms in fact admired some of Wagner's music and admired F. Liszt as a great pianist, but in 1860 he attempted to organize a public protest against some of the wilder excesses of their music
Although Brahms may be often regarded as one of the last bastions of the Romantic Period, he was not a mainstream Romantic but rather maintained a Classical sense of form and logic within his works in contrast to the opulence and excesses of many of his contemporaries. Thus many admirers--though not necessarily Brahms himself---saw him as the champion of traditional forms and "pure music," as opposed to the New German embrace of program music. [...] Though he was viewed as diametrically opposed to Wagner during his lifetime, it is incorrect to characterize Brahms as a reactionary. His point of view looked both backward and forward; his output was often bold in harmony and expression
Compared to many musicians and composers, Brahms was a late developer. [...] 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. [...] 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.
His music combines the serious and the playful, the intellectual and the earthy in a way that reminded many of Brahms’ contemporaries of Beethoven. Brahms’ mastery is apparent in everything he composed, from his charming piano miniatures to his Olympian symphonies.
[Brahms] began his friendship with the great violinist Joseph Joachim, who arranged for him to meet Liszt and Schumann, who prophesied his genius. Schumann's attempted suicide and subsequent madness affected Brahms greatly and is reflected in his D minor piano concerto and in his other works of that period.
With the success of his Symphony No. 1, Johannes Brahms was inducted into the fraternity known as the "Three Bs " - Bach, Beethoven and the child from the slums, Brahms. He had a life long love for Gypsy music, reflected in his Hungarian Dances. His career was not a steady process of evolution as was Beethoven's. In this respect he was one of music's mysteries in 'arriving fully armed, like Athena from the head of Zeus', as Schumann observed in that now famous article of 1853.
[German Requiem ] propelled Brahms to the pinnacle of his career and his reputation as a leading composer was never again doubted. Brahms, who before the requiem had composed essentially chamber music, solo piano works, and vocal music, afterwards started to write larger works involving chorus and orchestra.
[Brahms'] style is lush and romantic to the nth degree, but still follows the great classical traditions in form that were originally established by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. His mentor, Robert Schumann, launched Brahms at the tender age of 20, and wrote extensively about the young genius, whom he considered the heir to Beethoven.
Johannes Brahms's music conforms to Classical-era standards of form and structure. His enemies said that this made him conservative and boring - an old-fashioned writer of complicated music. But his fans disagreed! They saw him as keeping the old traditions alive with integrity. The two camps had a "war" (that's what they called it!) which divided all of musical society in Europe.