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Johannes Brahms (b.1833)
Symphony No.1, Op.68 (1876)

Key: C Minor
Orchestra: 2 Fl., 2 Ob., 2 Cl., 2 Bsn., 1 Cbsn. / 4 Hrn., 2 Tpt., 3 Tbn. / Timp. / Str
Tempo: Generally around eighth-note = 88 (start of the first movement)
Length (Approx): 45 minutes
Composed: 1862-1876

"Here stands a master composer producing one classical symphony after another, a confirmed and determined classicist in an era when classicism had long since been swept away by the tides of Romanticism that flooded Europe in the nineteenth century." -Elizabeth Schwarm Glesner

Johannes Brahms dream of writing symphonies had for years been hampered by one man: Ludwig von Beethoven. Fifty years before the release of Brahms' first symphony, Beethoven had already proven himself master of that genre. Brahms' feelings on this are probably best summed up by his quote "You don't know what it means to the likes of us when we hear his footsteps behind us." It meant, for Brahms, fourteen years of hesitation and careful alterations before finally releasing his symphony into the post-Beethoven-Symphony world.

His work was premiered in Karlsruhe. Brahms was not happy with the work, calling it "long and not especially amiable." However, Brahms was notorious for this. For example, after the release of his second symphony he instantaneously withdrew the piece and spent a number more years re-writing it.

Having passed the test in Karlsruhe, Brahms then arranged for a Vienna performance for his piece. This is first where the parallels between Brahms' work and that of Beethoven were drawn, namely by Critic Eduard Hanslick who suggesting that Brahms had relied heavily on the "serious side" of Beethoven at the expense of what he called "heart-warming sunshine."1 Eduard also insisted that the string melody of the fourth movement was strikingly similar to the Ode to Joy. The piece was tagged (and is still refered to today as) "Beethoven's Tenth" by conductor/pianist Hans von Bülow. Though undoubtedly these parallels would have not made Brahms happy, considering he was aiming for a reputation of his own, the same critics drawing these parallels also highly praised the piece. Eduard, for example, calling it "one of the most individual and magnificent works of the symphonic literature."

"The new symphony of Brahms is a possession of which the nation may be proud, an inexhaustible fountain of sincere pleasure and fruitful study." -Eduard Hanslick

Brahms' symphony today has, as he would have wished, a reputation of its own. Brahms was individual for his time, reflecting the works of Beethoven and Haydn much moreso than other composers of the time, such as the The Ring Cycle, perhaps the best work by Wagner. Where parallels are drawn between these composers, the passion in Brahms' First is truly unique. tdent points out that Brahms combines Classical ideas of form with Romantic harmonies and intensity of emotion - not just an attempt to return to Beethoven's style.

Compared to Brahms' First is Schumann's fourth: the slow introduction in compound time with Brahms first; also similar is the romance-like slow movement of Schumann's first - this even has a horn and oboe solo like that of Brahms' first. When Brahms uses the theme of the slow introductions that speed up in the first and last movements, Schumann had done something very similar in his fourth symphony. Schumann was also successful in combining Romantic feeling and tone with Classical unity of form. But his symphonies are relatively lightweight compared to Brahms' first, and don't quite have the emotional intensity or range. You could say Schumann was Haydn to Brahms' Beethoven, based on the fact that Haydn had already invented most of the formal innovations that Beethoven used, but his works were shorter and less 'intense', so he didn't get so much publicity. (thanks to tdent for this information in this paragraph)

Op. 68, for orchestra

The four movements are as follows:
  1. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro - Meno allegro
  2. Andante sostenuto
  3. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
  4. Adagio - Più andante - Allegro mon troppo, ma con brio

Corrections/queries/suggestions to me.


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