Symphony No. 2 in D Op. 73 (1877)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
- Allegro non troppo
- Adagio non troppo
- Allegretto grazioso (Quasi Andantino)
- Allegro con spirito
Born in Hamburg into a poor family, the teenage Brahms supported his family through piano-playing in dance halls, teaching and conducting choirs, until the virtuoso violinist Eduard Reményi adopted Brahms as his accompanist. He also introduced Brahms to the violinist Josef Joachim, 14 years his senior, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. In 1853 Joachim introduced the 20-year-old Brahms to the composer Robert Schumann and his pianist wife Clara. The influential Robert hailed Brahms as a budding genius, graciously welcoming him into their household.
Despite such enthusiastic support, Brahms resisted composing a major orchestral work. A harsh self-critic, he felt the shadow of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. This was reinforced when he heard a performance of Beethoven’s 9th – “You have no idea what it’s like to hear the footsteps of a giant like that behind you.” Consequently, his first symphony took 21 years to write and was not premiered until Brahms was 42.
Buoyed by its favourable reception, Brahms took only four months to write his second symphony. Brahms spent the summer in the lakeside town of Pörtschach on Lake Wörth in southern Austria where he said, “The melodies fly so thick that you have to be careful not to step on one.” At the premiere on 30 December 1877, the symphony was so successful that the last movement had to be encored.
Often called Brahms’ cheerful alter ego to the solemn melancholy of the first, the second symphony unfolds from the three initial notes on the cellos. These cleverly form the basis for all four movements. The work’s basically sunny disposition is often interrupted by more melancholy moments, with the cheerful third movement a counterpoint to the second movement’s darkness. The amiable finale eventually erupts with joyful abandon to its brass-dominated powerful conclusion.
Performed: 1999, September 2022