Brahms Symphony No. 2
Brahms Symphony No. 2 Program Notes
Johannes Brahms was a child of Hamburg, growing up near the great shipping port of Northern German. He maintained a lifelong fascination with shipping schedules, and other organizational minutiae. Following the path advised by his ill-fated mentor, Robert Schumann, he wound up in that European musical capital, Vienna. Although Brahms music contains tremendous opportunities for musical and emotional expression, he played the part of straight man in Viennese musical life. While never formulaic, he composed works with an eye for classical proportion and form, and the conservative critic Eduard Hanslick was one of his many champions.Perhaps with justification, Hanslick was impatient with genres that called themselves Music of the Future, excoriating Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt with some regularity. (Hanslick was quite dismissive of Bruckner, writing of his Eighth Symphony: strange as a whole and even repugnant…) Brahms cultivated the popular and influential in Vienna, too, (not a fault, no-matter what Frederic Morton says in A Nervous Splendor) – one of his signed autographs includes the opening of the Blue Danube Waltz, by Johann Strauss Jr., and says Unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms! His First Symphony (Op. 68), which he’d been rumored to be at work on for many years, and about which Robert Schumann had told the world to expect Beethoven’s Tenth!dz was performed with great anticipation, to a packed audience with the Vienna Philharmonic. The Second Symphony was composed much more quickly, during Brahms 1877 holiday in the Carinthian mountains of Southern Austria. The wonderful thing about Brahms is that you don’t need to know about the order of the Symphonies, and their connection to Mozart’s final symphony, to enjoy them. Specifically, the keys of Brahms four symphonies, C-D-F-E, spell out the main motif/fugue subject of the Jupiter Symphony’s Finale. However, the listener can gain some interesting perspective of Brahms, and the Second Symphony, in knowing that the notes of its brief introduction, D-C#-C, can be found throughout the piece – even the fourth movement begins D-C#-D!