The following are notes from UNC's Music Lit and Styles lecture given on 2/20/03 by Janice Dickensheets.
Johannes Brahms was very poor as a child and lived by the docks in Hamburg. When he was 13 he had some forno. His dad worked playing the double-bass, and his mom sewed for a living. His dad wanted him to learn a horn instrument because he thought there was no money in piano. He started playing piano in cafés to help his family out. He met Robert Schumann in his early twenties and Robert helped him launch his career. Later, Brahms helped Clara Schumann when Robert went into a institute after he tried to commit suicide. Clara continued to be his mentor and Brahms played her works. He never wrote an opera but he did write in all the other genres.