Monday, October 31, 2011

Berlin Philharmonic: Brahms Symphony No. 1

Here is the Berlin Philharmonic performing part of Brahms Symphony No 1, in C minor, Op. 68, Daniel Barenboim, conducting, on April 27, 2010.

Johannes Brahms, the nineteenth century German composer and pianist, was one of the leading Romantic period composers. Brahms, a contemporary of Franz Liszt, had a number of musical influences, including Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, and to a lesser extent Frédéric Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn. Brahms' music and its form was in direct opposition to the Liszt and Wagner's modern style of music drama.

As a Romantic-era composer, one would expect that Brahms' music would be laden with emotional depth, but it is an emotionality built on structure and tradition. The composer, a self-styled perfectionist, worked on the four-movement symphony for 14 years, finally completing it in 1876, only performing it publicly when he felt it was ready. It made its premiere, with Brahms' friend, Felix Otto Dessoff, as the conductor, on November 4, 1876, in Karlsruhe, Germany. Some have called this work, Beethoven's Tenth, due to its similarities to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, his last.

You can feel the tension in Brahms piece, well-captured in an article, "Struggle and Triumph, in The Wall Street Journal, that Barbara Jepson wrote:
Yet in the magnificent "C Minor Symphony," which had its premiere in his native Germany in 1876, Brahms not only overcame self-doubt but further imbued Classical symphonic form with the rapid mood shifts and ardent longing of German Romanticism. Endowed with remarkable thematic richness and unity, the C Minor Symphony is music of struggle and triumph, from its yearning opening for strings over a pounding timpani to its jubilant conclusion. Indeed, ambiguity pervades this 45-minute work. 
An interesting note: The Berlin Philharmonic, in its earliest form, played all four Brahms symphonies during its first three years of existence. One can meld together tradition and romanticism, but it doesn't come easily or cheaply. Greatness in art is often a matter of struggle and the overcoming of adversity.

Johannes Brahms [1833-97]: Taken in 1853 when he was twenty. "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind."
Source: Wikipedia

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