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Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg,
Germany, on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna
on April 3, 1897. He composed his Violin
Concerto in 1878. The work runs approximately
36 minutes in performance, and is scored for solo
violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4
horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and orchestral strings.
Brahms composed his Violin Concerto for his friend Joseph Joachim, then one of
the most important violinists in Germany. Joachim was intimately involved with the
composition of the concerto from its conception in the summer of 1878 to its
publication in the fall of 1879. Joachim gave the first performance, at the Leipzig
Gewandhaus, on new year’s Day 1879, and championed the work around Europe.
The first movement is spacious and lyrical, warmly scored, often pastoral, with a
moderate, waltz-like gait. The solo part is commanding, athletic, and wide-ranging,
yet is less a vehicle for display than one component of an organic symphonic
argument; at times, the soloist seems almost incidental or ornamental.While retaining
the dramatic interplay of contrasting performing forces, Brahms sought the
cohesiveness of continuous thematic development — an approach to form typical of
his instrumental music but not of a romantic solo concerto.
The work is conservative in form: Brahms’s principal model was Beethoven, but he
was also indebted to Mozart, Schumann, and even the Baroque concerto. The first
movement, notwithstanding its epic scale and romantic ardour, unfolds in a form
that Mozart would have recognized. It even calls for the traditional improvised
cadenza — a studied anachronism by this time. (Brahms did not provide one, but
Joachim’s original cadenza, still the one most often played, had his blessing).
The Adagio, which opens with an expansive lullaby for oboe, is a tender, seamless
intermezzo, concise yet surprisingly dramatic and deceptively simple in form. The
third movement is one of those stylized Gypsy-inspired finales for which Brahms had
such affection, perhaps in tribute to Joachim, who was born in Hungary. Two new
themes are introduced in later episodes, one march-like, the other a sweet, lilting
waltz. Brahms dramatically delays the final reprise of the main theme, but when it
does return it is extended with a striking accompanied cadenza for the violin. In a long
coda at a faster tempo, with new, wilder Gypsy-violin figuration, the concerto comes
to a boisterous close.
Programme Note by Kevin Bazzana
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