Accompanied by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra), the American classical violinist Hilary Hahn performs Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77. Conductor: Mikko Franck.
Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77
It was in May 1853, at the age of twenty, that Johannes Brahms met the famous Hungarian Violinist Joseph Joachim (1837-1907) in Hanover. A violinist two years his senior, a former pupil of Felix Mendelssohn, and a prodigy admired by Berlioz, Liszt, Robert, and Clara Schumann, Joachim was to become one of the greatest performers of his time. Between the two young men, a fraternal musical complicity is established. Joachim noted of the 1853 meeting: “Johannes, tender idealist… when he played me the movements of his Sonata, I found it of unimaginable strength and originality, both noble and inspired”.
Cemented by the affection that unites them, one like the other, to the Schumanns, the friendship of Brahms and Joachim will last more than forty years despite a falling out. We owe two violin concertos to this friendship: the Hungarian Concerto, opus 11 by Joachim (1860), dedicated to Brahms, forgotten today, and the Concerto in D major by Brahms dedicated to Joachim. Solidity and symphonic power characterize this score where bravery, lyricism, heroic impulses, and breathtaking virtuosity follow one another.
Brahms completed his Concerto in the summer of 1878 in Pörtschach, a small Austrian town on the shores of Lake Wörthersee in Carinthia, before reworking the violin part with Joachim in September. “There is some excuse for this concerto to bear your name,” he wrote afterward to his friend, “since you are more or less responsible for the violin part”.
The work was premiered in Leipzig by Joachim with the Gewandhaus orchestra under the direction of the composer on January 1, 1879. “By paying homage to his friend with a work which is perfectly worthy of Joachim’s great talent, writes at the Leipziger Nachrichten, Brahms has measured up to a task where he equals the two masterpieces of the genre, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. We will admit that we awaited the test with a few heartbeats (…); but what joy we felt”. The two friends performed the Concerto again in Budapest and Vienna before Joachim championed it across Europe.
The Polish virtuoso violinist Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) called the work “unplayable”, and the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908) refused to play it because he didn’t want to “stand on the rostrum, violin in hand and listen to the oboe playing the only tune in the adagio”.
Despite these early critics, Brahms’ violin concerto is considered one of the most significant works in the violin concerto repertoire.
- Allegro non troppo (D major)
- Adagio (F major)
- Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto (D major)
1. Allegro non troppo
The opening Allegro ma non troppo has the particularity of beginning with an extensive exposition in which the orchestra lays out the thematic material, before the energetic entry of the soloist.
Virtuoso episodes then alternate with long melodic moments. Brahms left the place of the cadenza empty, leaving it up to his interpreters to realize it as they see fit.
The peaceful Adagio also opens with an orchestral page, famous for the beautiful oboe melody which unfolds there and which the violin takes up. The violinist Pablo de Sarasate, who refused to play the concerto on the pretext that it did not emphasize his instrument enough, had declared about this melody that it was the only one that was successful in the work.
3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto
An Allegro giocoso, non-troppo vivace, with Hungarian accents, as exuberant as it is energetic, incredibly virtuoso, closes the score.
- Violin Concerto (Brahms) on Wikipedia