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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
November 13, 1999

Brahms: Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (Double Concerto) |
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in c minor

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (Double Concerto)

Vivace ma non troppo

“I must tell you that I have had the strange notion of writing a concerto for violin and cello!” Brahms wrote the conductor Franz Wüller in 1887.  A few days later the idea had become “a happy notion” in a letter to Clara Schumann.  By the time of its completion, The Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, commonly known as the “Double Concerto” had become a vehicle of reconciliation between the composer and his estranged friend, eminent violinist Joseph Joachim.  (The break stemmed from Joachim’s perception that Brahms had conspired against him at the violinist’s bitter divorce proceedings.)  During the course of preparing the concerto’s first performances in the resort town of Baden-Baden, and the official premiere in Cologne, Clara Schumann wrote in her diary “Joachim and Brahms have spoken to one another again after years of silence.”  The soloists for the premiere were Joachim and cellist Robert Hausmann, with Brahms conducting.   The composer continued to hold out the olive branch as he published the work the following year with the dedication: “To him for whom it was written: Joseph Joachim.”

The last of Brahms’ orchestral works, the concerto follows the composer’s propensity to utilize the old forms rather than break new ground.  For this work, the inspiration comes from the Baroque concerto grosso, setting a small group of instruments against the body of the orchestra.  The form may be classic, but the substance is certainly a product of the romantic.  The soloists are called upon to display their virtuosity–but together.  Listen for the generous use of double stops—almost giving the effect of a solo string quartet.  Following the dramatic opening movement, Brahms gives the soloists a melody of blossoming beauty one writer describes as a”great ballade, steeped in the rich mysterious tone of a northern evening atmosphere.”  The concluding rondo sports four contrasting themes with the zest of the Hungarian dances the composer loved so well.

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Johannes Brahms (1833—1897)
Symphony No. 1 in c minor

Un poco sostenuto. Allegro
Andante Sostenuto
Un poco allegretto e grazioso
Adagio. Piú Andante Allegro non troppo, ma con brio

Brahms, always the methodical, painstaking composer, certainly took his time delivering the first of his first of four symphonies to the world.  It was in 1854 that he heard Beethoven’s Ninth for the first time, and seems to have suffered despair as he wrote his friend Hermann Levi: “I shall never compose a symphony.  You have no conception of how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like him (Beethoven) behind us.”  Early sketches for a symphony apparently date from about that time, but it was 1862 before even the first movement was completed.  It was laid aside again until the summer of 1874.  After completing the Haydn Variations, the composer set to work again on the symphony, completing it in 1876.  In spite of the conductor Bülow’s suggestion that Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in c minor, was Beethoven’s Tenth, the work received a rather indifferent reception in Karlsruhe, Mannheim (1876), and particularly in Munich a year later.  Removed from the musical political battles of the time, we may enjoy the Brahms symphonies for what they are—the culminating works of the classic symphonic tradition.

The passion and power of the allegro of the first movement are unleashed through the throbbing  37-measure introduction.   Only in the final bars does the mood brighten to C major.  The lyrical andante sostenuto features solos for the first chair winds and a final violin solo.  Instead of the customary Beethoven scherzo movement, Brahms chose a relatively brief, graceful intermezzo for the third movement; warm woodwind hues dominate.  The extended introduction to the finale brings back the darkness and mystery of the first movement. Following a series of recitative-like passages the famous horn solo (inspired by a Swiss Alpen horn) is heard, leading into the final hymn of triumph.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1999.
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