Arizona Musicfest Performs Brahms

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It was the summer of 1877, and Johannes Brahms was staying in the beautiful Austrian lakeside village of Pörtschach, when he wrote “I have to confess that I am a severely melancholic person, that black wings are constantly flapping above us, and that in my output – perhaps not entirely by chance – that symphony is followed by a little essay about the great ‘Why.’ If you don’t know this, I will send it to you. It casts the necessary shadow on the serene symphony and perhaps accounts for those timpani and trombones.”

The symphony he is talking about, the one he completed that summer in that picturesque little town, is his Second Symphony. It’s a work that – as Brahms says in so many words – is filled with the various shades of life’s lights and darks. Still, the Second Symphony offers a departure from his first symphony and, in many ways, defied the expectations of audiences at the time.

Brahms’s First Symphony is music that is austere: it is brooding, it is somber, and the composer himself even described it as “long, and not especially amiable.” It also took him nearly two decades to compose, in part because of his own sometimes-crippling perfectionism, and because he was inexplicably intimidated by following in Beethoven’s footsteps – all of which were simply byproducts of his self-imposed high standards.

And despite teasing that his Second Symphony would actually be much more “sad” than the first… that actually wasn’t the case at all. And, on top of that, audiences were probably surprised when Brahms produced the piece in a matter of months, and not decades. There are still those shadowy moments in the Symphony No. 2, those shades that are held over from the First, but this is music that mostly has a warm and optimistic character to it.

We’ll hear a performance on Arizona Encore from a past Arizona Musicfest, on an all-Brahms program that also includes a moment from his Piano Quartet No. 3.

Brahms - Symphony No. 2 - Arizona Musicfest Festival Orchestra; Robert Moody, conductor

Brahms - Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 6 - Manhattan Chamber Players; Katie Hyun, violin; Luke Fleming, viola; Jacob Fowler, cello; David Fung, piano

I. Allegro non troppo

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