Brahms – Symphony No. 2 (Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein)

Conducted by Leonard Bernstein, the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) performs Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73.

The symphony was composed in 1877, during a visit to Pörtschach am Wörthersee, a town in the Austrian province of Carinthia. The composition time was very short in comparison the German composer’s first symphony, which took fifteen years to compose. Brahms wrote it in the rural and natural atmosphere of southern Austria, which may have contributed to the work’s essentially pastoral nature.

The premiere was given in Vienna on December 30, 1877 by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Hans Richte (4 April 1843 – 5 December 1916), the Austrian–Hungarian orchestral and operatic conductor.

Brahms preserved the structural principles of the classical symphony, in which two lively outer movements frame a slow second movement followed by a short scherzo:

  1. 0:45 Allegro non troppo (D major) The cellos and double-basses start the first-movement sonata form in a tranquil mood by introducing the first phrase of the principal theme, which is continued by the horns. The woodwinds develop the section and other instruments join in gradually progressing to a full-bodied forte (at bar 58). At bar 82, the cellos and violas introduce a new theme in F-sharp minor, which eventually moves to A major. After a development section based mostly on motives of the principal theme group, the recapitulation begins at bar 302, with the second theme returning at bar 350. Towards the conclusion of the movement, Brahms marked bar 497 as in tempo, sempre tranquillo, and it is this mood which pervades the remainder of the movement as it closes in the home key of D major. Brahms bases much of the first movement on a melody he formerly composed for Wiegenlied, Op. 49, the tune commonly referred to as “Brahms’s Lullaby”. It is introduced at bar 82 and is continually brought back, reshaped and changed both rhythmically and harmonically.
  2. 21:50 Adagio non troppo (B major) A brooding theme introduced by the cellos from bars 1 to 12, with a counter-melody in the bassoons, begins the second movement (also in sonata form). A second theme, marked L’istesso tempo, ma grazioso, appears in bar 33. After a brief development section, the recapitulation is highly modified. The movement then finishes with a coda-like section in which the main theme is reintroduced in the end. An interesting use of thematic material is used in this movement. Here we see the use of the developing variation of the theme.
  3. 34:38 Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) (G major) The third movement scherzo opens with pizzicato cellos accompanying a lilting oboe melody in G major. A contrasting section in 2/4 time marked Presto ma non assai begins in the strings, and this theme is soon taken over by the full orchestra (minus trumpets). Bar 107 returns to the main tempo and gentle mood, but the idyll setting is again disrupted in bar 126 when the earlier Presto marking makes a re-entry, this time in a 3/8 variation. Brahms yet again diverts the movement back into its principal tempo (bar 194) and thereafter to its peaceful close.
  4. 40:13 Allegro con spirito (D major) Busy-sounding (but quiet) strings begin the final Allegro con spirito, again in sonata form. A loud section breaks in unexpectedly in bar 23 with the full orchestra. As the excitement appears to fade away, violins introduce a new subject in A major marked largamente (to be played broadly). The wind instruments repeat this until it develops into a climax. Bar 155 of the movement repeats the symphony’s first subject again, but instead of the joyful outburst heard earlier, Brahms introduces the movement’s development section. A mid-movement tranquillo section (bar 206, and reappearing in the coda) elaborates earlier material and slows down the movement to allow a buildup of energy into the recapitulation. The first theme comes in again (bar 244) and the familiar orchestral forte is played. The second theme also reappears in the tonic key. Towards the end of the symphony, descending chords and a mazy run of notes by various instruments of the orchestra (bars 395 to 412) sound out the second theme again but this time drowned out in a blaze of brass instruments as the symphony ends in a triumphant mood.
Pörtschach am Wörthersee
Pörtschach am Wörthersee is a municipality in the district of Klagenfurt-Land in Carinthia, Austria. It is an established summer resort and lakeside town on Wörthersee. Johannes Brahms spent the summers of 1877 to 1879 in Pörtschach. In a letter to Clara Schumann he recounted how he stopped off on his voyage to Vienna for overnight lodging and found the next day so pleasant that on the second day he decided to stay for the time being. Pörtschach is the site of an annual Johannes Brahms Competition. Photo: wikipedia

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