VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/VHeqTeVpoHk
TODAY’S LESSON: Great Expectations; Big Footsteps; and “Why I LOVE Brahms”
Have you ever been in a situation where much was expected of you due to the success of an older sibling, other family member, peer, former section leader, drum, major, etc.? If you have, then magnify your experience by 100 and you’ll appreciate how Johannes Brahms felt as he was writing his first of four symphonies.
A little background…
Johannes Brahms (1833-97) was born in Germany six years after Beethoven died. He earned a fine reputation as a pianist and composer and at 20 years old was introduced to the legendary composer Robert Schumann (1810-56). Schumann, who was also a writer, was very impressed with Brahms and hailed him as a genius and the next Beethoven! Gee thanks Robert! No pressure!
Brahms continued to write concertos, chamber music, sonatas, choral works, songs, but avoided the genre of the symphony because he was frightened of not being able to live up to Schumann’s expectation of him as the next Beethoven. Although beginning in 1854 he began to seriously sketch ideas for a symphony, perhaps realizing that he would never be thought of as a master composer until he conquered this genre. After 20 years of writing (no kidding), he finally completed his first symphony!
Did it live up the expectations that everyone thought it would?
YES, YES, and YES!!! In fact, it is often dubbed as “Beethoven’s 10th Symphony.” Ha! Despite the pressure of the expectations and the footsteps of Beethoven in the back of his mind, Brahms did it! And within years of the premiere of his first symphony, wrote 3 more, all of which are outstanding!
In this lesson, I want to share with you some of the reasons why I LOVE the music of this composer. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate to you what you can listen for in great music. We are going to listen to excerpts of the first and fourth (last) movement of his “Symphony No. 1 in c minor.”
Music example #1: 6:14-6:50 in attached link
It grabs your attention! Bernstein stated that if a work does not grab your attention within the first 30 seconds, it will probably “not make it.”
The pedal in the timpani—both the incessant rhythm (footsteps?) and tension it creates.
The yearning, chromatic lines in contrary motion counterpoint—one ascending and one descending—Brahms is musically showing us how he had to tear through his doubts to write this work!
Music example #2: 9:00-10:04 in attached link
What great themes–Very original and charismatic! Full of development potential.
Economical—he does not waste ideas, rather, he reuses themes that were at first in the foreground to accompany other ideas.
Use of sequences to weave motifs into longer themes—longer lines.
Counterpoint—call and response—the texture/dimension/depth of sound is so rich! One never tires of repeated listenings because so many wonderful things are happening—but they do not overwhelm, rather they work together to build to a climax or settle into a moment of repose.
Music example #3: 11:46-12:25 in attached link
Another great motif used sequentially to build tension.
Listen to how he uses the first theme as an accompaniment.
Wow! What great horn lines!
Call and response—textures are so clear!
Music example #4: 16:32-17:24 in attached link
In the development section, listen how he begins with the motif that you just heard, then adds a new theme to it.
Listen to the 4-note “da-da-da-dum” motif from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” known as the “fate motif.” OMG! He is literally quoting Beethoven! WOW!
Listen to the wonderful counterpoint among the voices, the call-response.
Music example #5: 18:27-19:09 in attached link
Note how Brahms builds tension/energy to a climax.
Listen for the pedal point (the repeated note in the bass).
Note the surprises in harmony.
Music example #6: 21:00-22:10 in attached link
Counterpoint and economy of material: Note how theme is first sounded in upper strings, then flipped to lower strings
Note the way the Brahms uses call-response to build tension as well as the clever use of modifying rhythm to increase energy.
Also note the effective of silence at the peak of this segment
Music example #7: 44:00, 45:20, 46:30 in attached link
Great ideas/themes—French horn plays “alphorn melody”
Listen to counterpoint beneath theme—dotted quarter/eighth
Chorale in trombones (their first entrance in this symphony)
The “Big Tune” at beginning of exposition–akin to song in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony—and everyone knew it; another homage to Beethoven
Music example #8: 52:45-53:50 in attached link
Horns erupt in 4-note motif; then 3-note motif; then “alpine motif” followed by big moment of silence which sets up a “Beethoven-esque” dissonant chord at the climax of this section.
Music example #9: 56:50-58:43 in attached link
The “Big Tune” in minor; call-response build to the arrival of the coda
Rhythmic modulation from 6/8 (triplet feel) to 2/4 to create a “churning” sound
Call-response leads to a fortissimo statement of the Trombone Chorale heard at the beginning of the movement
Timpani punctuates chords of final cadence, an “Amen” cadence IV-I.
1) Listen to at least the FIRST and FOURTH movement of this symphony without interruption. The first link is the one with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and is positively one of my favorite Bernstein performances. Look at his facial expressions! OMG! No score—this man knows this music inside-out and conducts with total passion and commitment to every ounce of music in the work. He could play every part on the piano—by memory!!! Incredible. You want to learn how to conduct? Watch Bernstein!!!
I have provided several other links, including one with a score.
Source of timings in this “Doc Talk/Lesson”
Symphony No. 1 with score:
If you really want to see a detailed analysis of this symphony, just google
“Opus 68 Listening Guide.”
There are many more short documentaries on this symphony—just have fun surfing the web!
Please enjoy this wonderful music and I hope it inspires you to fall in love with Beethoven’s true successor!