Alex Ross at The New Yorker:
In the world of Brahms, it is, above all, always late. Light is waning, shadows are growing, silence is encroaching. The topic of lateness and loneliness in Brahms is a familiar one; the adjectives “autumnal” and “elegiac” follow him everywhere. Scholars have tried to parse Brahmsian melancholy in terms biographical, philosophical, and sociopolitical. He was a self-contained man who never married and prized his separateness. He belonged to a generation that saw the irreversible transformation of nature in the age of steam and speed. Reinhold Brinkmann, in his book “Late Idyll,” speaks of Brahms’s consciousness of his latecomer status in musical history, at the end of a line that began with Bach and reached its height with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. After him came the deluge of twentieth-century music, of which he got a glimpse in the hotheaded youthful works of Mahler and Richard Strauss.