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Andrews University Sinfionetta
Fall Concert
October 22, 2006

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 73 | Grieg: Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 16

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

Allegro non troppo
Adagio non troppo
Allegretto grazioso
Allegro con spirito

Brahms and Grieg could well answer the quintessential Fall question, “what did you do on your summer vacation?” by citing the music heard on this afternoon’s concert. Both works were written in idyllic surroundings during summers of contentment.

Brahms had struggled for nearly twenty years to complete his first symphony, but with that hurdle overcome, the second seemed to roll right out. During the summer of 1877, while staying in a cottage in the village of Pörtschach on Lake Worth, Brahms took daily swims, enjoyed vistas of mountains and water, and partook of good eating. All this seems to have inspired some of his sunniest and most accessible symphonic music. So confident was he of the success of his second symphony that Brahms, ever the practical joker, began to tease his friends and publisher regarding its mood and style. He wrote his publisher Simrock saying, “the new symphony is so melancholy that you can’t stand it. I have never written anything so sad, so minorish: the score must appear with a black border.” Another measure of the composer’s confidence was that the premiere of the Symphony No. 2 in D Major was not given by a small backwater orchestra, as was the first symphony, but was first performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on December 30 of that year with Hans Richter conducting. From the first the work was a success with audiences, complete with demands that the third movement be encored.

The symphony opens with a three-note motive in the lower strings, which is then taken up in the winds, preparing for the soaring melody introduced by the violins, gradually bringing in the entire orchestra with full power. The second theme, reminiscent of a slow waltz, is introduced by violas and cellos. The first of the noble themes of the slow movement is introduced by the cellos in their rich middle range, accompanied by winds. The longest and perhaps the most beautiful of all the slow movements of the composer’s symphonies, the melodies and tonal colors are woven together in a most unexpected but masterful way. While Mozart and Haydn provided minuets and Beethoven scherzos for third movements, Brahms gave us a charming intermezzoAllegretto grazioso. The oboe introduces a pastorale theme which alternates with scherzo-like presto sections. The finale, full of even more richly elaborated themes than have come before, concludes the symphony with grand contrasts and heroic bravado.


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Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 16

Allegro molto moderato
Allegro moderato molto e marcato

While Brahms was considered a master of large musical forms, Grieg constantly struggled with them. He first blamed his Leipzig teachers for his ineptitude, then, upon his discovery of Norwegian folk idioms, he finally abandoned the large forms to devote his efforts to the creation of exquisite miniatures. However, among a handful of larger-scale works that he did produce stands one of the most popular romantic works for piano and orchestra, the Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. It was written during the summer of 1868 while on holiday. That year found the twenty-five year old Grieg happily married, with a new baby daughter. Husband and wife, leaving baby with her grandparents in Copenhagen, went off to a cottage in the country where Grieg, his health persistently precarious, spent the summer rising late, eating good food, roaming the countryside, and composing as he desired. The ensuing work exudes happiness and joy of the natural world. The work was dedicated to the pianist Edmund Neupart, who played the solo part at the premiere on April 3, 1869 in Copenhagen. The piece was an immediate success with critics and public alike and remains so today.

Following the opening timpani roll and descending octave passage on the piano, theme after pleasing theme is set forth and elaborated by soloist and orchestra. Full orchestral chords announce the cadenza which, following the expected fireworks, primarily elaborates the main theme, before fading into trills which lead the orchestra back in a delicate pianissimo. A playful theme brings us back shortly to the opening piano flourish to close the movement. Muted strings open the second movement which is filled with lyricism, rippling streams, songs of birds, and hymn-like themes. The Norwegian dance, the Halling, introduces the finale which follows the second movement without break. The final movement boasts five themes in all. Before the conclusion, another cadenza ushers in the coda which then grows into the final majestic theme with the mighty sound of full brass.


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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2006.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts