Nikolaus Brass, born in Lindau in 1949, initially studied medicine and took private composition lessons with Peter Kiesewetter at the Munich Academy of Music. He concluded his medical studies at the Free University of Berlin. He studied composition with Frank Michael Beyer and later privately with Helmut Lachenmann. Between 1978 and 1986 he regularly attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where he also met with Morton Feldman.
After being invited to the Gaudeamus Muziekweek in the Netherlands, he began publishing his compositions in 1981. Since then he has had numerous premieres at the most important New Music festivals, such as the Donaueschingen Festival, musica viva Munich, Ultraschall Berlin, ECLAT Stuttgart, Klangspuren Schwaz or Witten Days for New Chamber Music. Alongside orchestral works such as Der Garten for four male voices and orchestra (premiered in 2012 by Peter Eötvös at musica viva), vocal music such as fallacies of hope – deutsches requiem, with text projections from the novel Die Ästhetik des Widerstands by Peter Weiss, for 32 voices (premiered in 2014 by the SWR Vokalensemble, conducted by Florian Helgath, at the ECLAT Festival) and chamber music are the main emphases of his work. In recent times, Brass has turned more towards staged projects (the chamber music theatre work Sommertag, based on the drama of the same name of Jon Fosse, was premiered in 2014 at the Munich Biennale). In addition, he has also authored radio programmes and journal articles.
Nikolaus Brass has received numerous awards, including the Music Prize of the State Capital Munich in 2009. Since 2014 he has been a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.