Accompanied by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), the great Italian classical pianist Maurizio Pollini performs Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83. Conductor: Claudio Abbado. A beautiful interpretation that brings together three gems of classical music: Pollini, a great classical pianist; Abbado, one of the most celebrated and respected conductors of the 20th century; and the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the premier orchestras in the world. Year of the recording: 1977.

Accompanied by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), the great Italian classical pianist Maurizio Pollini performs Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83. Conductor: Claudio Abbado. Year of the recording: 1977.

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, is a monumental work in the concerto repertoire, showcasing Brahms’ mature compositional skills and his deep understanding of both the piano and the orchestra.

There is a 22-year gap between Brahms’ second and first piano concerto. He began work on the piece in 1878. and completed it in 1881, during a period when he was at the height of his musical powers. This concerto stands as one of the pinnacles of Romantic music, blending emotional depth with structural complexity.

The piece is dedicated to the composer’s teacher, Eduard Marxsen (23 July 1806 – 18 November 1887, the German pianist, composer, and teacher). The premiere of the concerto was given in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist, and was an immediate success.

The genesis of this concerto was rooted in Brahms’ long-standing friendship with the pianist Clara Schumann and his desire to push the boundaries of the concerto form. Unlike his First Piano Concerto, which was met with mixed reviews at its premiere, the Second Piano Concerto was received with greater enthusiasm, reflecting Brahms’ evolution as a composer and the changing tastes of the musical public.

Spanning approximately 50 minutes, the concerto is notable for its symphonic scope and the intricate interplay between soloist and orchestra. Brahms deftly balances virtuosic passages for the piano with rich, expansive orchestral textures, creating a dialogue that is both intimate and grand. The work is characterized by its lyrical themes, rhythmic variety, and the innovative integration of the piano and orchestral parts, which often blurs the lines between solo and accompaniment roles.

The concerto’s warmth and expressiveness, combined with its technical demands, make it a favorite among pianists and audiences alike. Its emotional range, from the brooding intensity of the opening movements to the joyful exuberance of the finale, reflects Brahms’ mastery of musical expression and his ability to convey complex emotions through sound.

Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto also reflects his conservative musical tastes and his reverence for the forms and traditions of the past, even as he innovated within those frameworks. In this work, Brahms pays homage to the classical concerto form while expanding its possibilities, incorporating elements of sonata form, theme and variations, and the traditional rondo.

Despite its initial positive reception, the concerto’s complexity and demands on both the soloist and the orchestra have made it a challenging piece to perform. Yet, its enduring popularity attests to its significance in the concert repertoire and its ability to resonate with listeners across generations.

The concerto’s richness in melody, harmonic language, and structural innovation, combined with the emotional depth it plumbs, make it a seminal work in the canon of Western music. Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 not only represents the apex of his own creative achievements but also stands as a testament to the enduring power and beauty of the Romantic musical tradition.

The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (B-flat), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (initially 2 in B-flat bass, 2 in F), 2 trumpets (B-flat), timpani (B-flat and F), and strings. (The trumpets and timpani are used only in the first two movements, which is unusual.)


The piece is in four movements, rather than the three typical of concertos in the Classical and Romantic periods.

1. Allegro non troppo

The first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, is marked “Allegro non troppo,” indicating a tempo that is lively but not too fast. This movement sets the tone for the concerto’s grandeur and complexity, unfolding over an expansive structure that showcases Brahms’ mastery of musical architecture and his innovative approach to the concerto form.

Beginning with a gentle horn solo that introduces the main theme, the movement quickly establishes a mood of noble introspection. This theme is then taken up by the piano, which embarks on a dialogue with the orchestra, weaving through a series of variations and developments that showcase the soloist’s virtuosity and the orchestra’s range of color and expression. The interplay between the piano and orchestra in this movement is particularly noteworthy for its depth and intricacy, as Brahms employs a rich tapestry of motifs and textures to create a sense of conversation rather than competition.

Structurally, the movement adheres to the principles of sonata form, with a clear exposition, development, and recapitulation. However, Brahms modifies this form with his characteristic innovation, introducing new themes in the development section and creating a complex network of thematic transformations that challenge traditional expectations. The development section, in particular, is a testament to Brahms’ skill in thematic development and orchestration, featuring a dramatic exploration of the movement’s main ideas.

The movement’s emotional range is broad, moving from moments of serene beauty to passages of intense drama. The piano’s role is both lyrical and heroic, demanding a combination of technical prowess and expressive depth from the soloist. Brahms’ use of the piano in this movement is notable for its integration into the orchestral texture, as the solo instrument often merges with the ensemble to create a unified sonic landscape.

The climax of the movement is reached through a buildup of harmonic tension and thematic interplay, leading to a triumphant return of the main theme in the recapitulation. Brahms’ skillful modulation and orchestration create a sense of resolution and fulfillment, while the movement closes on a note of introspective calm, reflecting the complexity and depth of the emotional journey.

2. Allegro appassionato

The second movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, marked “Allegro appassionato,” offers a striking contrast to the expansive, introspective first movement. This movement is more concise and is characterized by its passionate intensity and dramatic contrasts, showcasing a different aspect of Brahms’ compositional prowess.

Unlike the typical concerto structure where a slow movement provides a lyrical respite, this movement is vigorous and dynamic, with a fiery temperament that maintains the listener’s heightened engagement. The “Allegro appassionato” is in a minor key, which contributes to its stormy and impassioned mood, serving as a bridge between the reflective first movement and the more lyrical and serene third movement that follows.

The movement opens with a forceful theme in the orchestra, immediately establishing a sense of urgency and tension. The piano enters shortly after, echoing and then expanding on the thematic material introduced by the orchestra. Brahms crafts a dialogue between the piano and orchestra that is both combative and cooperative, with the piano often taking the lead in driving the movement forward.

Brahms makes use of a tightly-knit thematic development, where the main theme undergoes various transformations, each iteration exploring different emotional and musical landscapes. The movement’s structure is somewhat reminiscent of a sonata form, with a clear exposition, development, and recapitulation, but Brahms manipulates this form with his characteristic flexibility, introducing new ideas and modulations that keep the listener engaged and surprised.

The development section sees Brahms exploring the full emotional range of the theme, with the piano and orchestra engaging in intense interplay. The piano part is technically demanding, requiring virtuosic skill to navigate the rapid passages, powerful chords, and intricate figurations that Brahms employs to convey the movement’s passionate character.

Despite its brevity compared to the other movements, the second movement is packed with dramatic intensity and contrasts. Brahms masterfully builds tension through the development section, leading to a powerful recapitulation where the main theme is revisited and intensified. The movement concludes with a coda that revisits the opening material, bringing the passionate discourse to a decisive close.

The “Allegro appassionato” of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto thus serves as a compelling exploration of passion and intensity within the concerto’s broader emotional and structural landscape. It highlights Brahms’ ability to convey deep emotional content through sophisticated musical means, making it a vital and captivating part of the overall work.

3. Andante

The third movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, marked “Andante,” presents a profound shift in mood from the fiery intensity of the preceding “Allegro appassionato.” This movement is often regarded as the emotional core of the concerto, offering a moment of introspective calm and lyrical beauty that contrasts sharply with the surrounding movements.

Characterized by its serene and tender quality, the “Andante” opens with a simple yet profoundly expressive theme introduced by the cellos, setting a mood of reflective tranquility. This opening cello melody is one of the most memorable aspects of the concerto, showcasing Brahms’ skill in writing beautifully lyrical lines for the orchestra. The theme is imbued with a sense of longing and nostalgia, evoking a deep emotional response from the listener.

The piano enters delicately, weaving its own contemplative commentary around the orchestral theme. The interplay between the piano and orchestra in this movement is more collaborative than confrontational, with the piano acting as an intimate voice within a broader orchestral canvas. Brahms employs the piano in a way that complements and enhances the orchestral texture rather than dominating it, allowing for moments of delicate interplay and mutual reflection.

Structurally, the “Andante” diverges from the traditional concerto slow movement, incorporating elements of a rondo form where the main theme returns several times, interspersed with contrasting sections. These contrasting sections introduce new themes and harmonies, adding depth and variety to the movement while maintaining the overall atmosphere of lyrical introspection.

One of the distinctive features of this movement is Brahms’ use of the orchestra, particularly the woodwinds and horns, to create a rich, sonorous backdrop to the piano’s lyrical lines. The orchestration is masterful, balancing clarity and warmth to enhance the movement’s expressive quality. The dialogue between the solo piano and individual orchestral voices, especially the cellos and woodwinds, adds to the movement’s intimate character.

The “Andante” builds to a climax that is both emotional and restrained, avoiding the tempestuousness of the second movement in favor of a more subdued intensity. Brahms demonstrates his command of form and harmony, guiding the movement to a conclusion that is poignant and reflective, with the initial theme returning in a final, contemplative iteration.

4. Allegretto grazioso-Un poco più presto

The fourth and final movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83, marked “Allegretto grazioso,” brings the concerto to a close with a spirit of joyful affirmation and playful exuberance, contrasting the introspective and serene mood of the third movement. This movement is characterized by its light-heartedness, showcasing Brahms’ ability to blend technical mastery with a sense of whimsy and delight.

The movement opens with a short, lively introduction by the orchestra, setting the stage for the piano’s entrance with a theme that is both graceful and buoyant. The piano part in this movement is replete with sparkling runs, crisp articulation, and nimble passages that require a high degree of technical finesse and a lightness of touch from the soloist. The overall effect is one of effervescence and charm, with the piano and orchestra engaging in a dance-like interplay that is both intricate and spontaneous.

Brahms structures this movement with a nod towards the traditional rondo form, where the main theme recurs several times, interspersed with contrasting episodes. However, true to his innovative nature, Brahms infuses this structure with his own unique touches, incorporating a variety of textures, rhythmic motifs, and harmonic twists that keep the music fresh and engaging throughout.

One of the distinguishing features of this movement is the inclusion of a piu presto section towards the end, which serves as a coda. In this section, Brahms increases the tempo and introduces a new, exhilarating theme that propels the movement towards its conclusion. This final burst of energy brings the concerto to a triumphant and exhilarating close, showcasing the soloist’s virtuosity and the orchestra’s precision.

The “Allegretto grazioso” is remarkable for its blend of classical elegance and romantic expressiveness. Brahms demonstrates his mastery of orchestration and thematic development, weaving together a tapestry of melodies and rhythms that is both sophisticated and accessible. The movement’s playful character and technical demands highlight the joyous potential of the concerto form, offering a fitting conclusion to a work that spans a wide emotional and musical spectrum.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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