Piano Concerto No. 2 (Brahms)
The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83 by Johannes Brahms is separated by a gap of 22 years from his first piano concerto. Brahms began work on the piece in 1878 and completed it in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. It is dedicated to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen. The premiere of the concerto was given in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist, and was an immediate success. He proceeded to perform the piece in many cities across Europe.
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.)
- Allegro non troppo (B-flat major)
- Allegro appassionato (D minor)
- Andante (B-flat major)
- Allegretto grazioso (B-flat major)
The additional movement results in a concerto considerably longer than most other concertos written up to that time, with typical performances lasting around 50 minutes. Upon its completion, Brahms sent its score to his friend, the surgeon and violinist Theodor Billroth to whom Brahms had dedicated his first two string quartets, describing the work as "some little piano pieces." Brahms even described the stormy scherzo as a "little wisp of a scherzo."
Allegro non troppo
The first movement is in the concerto variant of sonata form. The main theme is introduced with a horn solo, with the piano interceding. The woodwind instruments proceed to introduce a small motif (borrowed, perhaps unconsciously, from the opening of the first movement of his Serenade No. 2) before an unusually placed cadenza appears. The full orchestra repeats the theme and introduces more motifs in the orchestral exposition. The piano and orchestra work together to develop these themes in the piano exposition before the key changes to F minor (from F major, the dominant) and the piano plays a powerful and difficult section before the next orchestral tutti appears. The development, like many such sections in the Classical period, works its way from the dominant key back to the tonic while heavily developing themes. At the beginning of the recapitulation, the theme is replayed before a differing transition is heard, returning to the music heard in the piano exposition (this time in B-flat major / B-flat minor). A coda appears after the minor key section, finishing off this movement.
This scherzo is in the key of D minor and is in ternary form. Contrary to Brahms' "tiny wisp of a scherzo" remark, it is a tumultuous movement. The piano and orchestra introduce the theme and develop it before a quiet section intervenes. Soon afterwards the piano and orchestra launch into a stormy development of the theme before coming to the central episode (in D major). The central episode is brisk and begins with the full orchestra before yet another quiet section intervenes; then the piano is integrated into the orchestral effect to repeat the theme of the central episode. The beginning section returns but is highly varied.
The slow movement is in the tonic key of B-flat major and is unusual in utilizing an extensive cello solo within a piano concerto (the source of this idea may be Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto, which features a slow movement scored only for cello and piano). Brahms subsequently rewrote the cello's theme and changed it into a song, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer ("My Slumber Grows Ever More Peaceful") with lyrics by Hermann Van Lingg. (Op. 105, No. 2). Within the concerto, the cello plays the theme for the first three minutes, before the piano comes in. However, the gentler melodic piece that the piano plays soon gives way to a stormy theme in B-flat minor. When the storm subsides, still in the minor key, the piano plays a transitional motif that leads to the key of G-flat major, before the cello comes in to reprise, in the wrong key, and knowing that it has to get back to B-flat major, the piano and the orchestra make a transition to finish off the theme in its original home key of B-flat major. After the piano plays the transitional motifs, the piano quickly reprises the middle section in a major key before the final coda is established.
The last movement consists of five clearly distinguishable sections, which introduce and develop five different themes.
The first section (bars 1 to 64) presents themes 1 and 2. The first theme (also the "main theme") (1-8) is first played by the piano and then repeated by the orchestra. The second theme (16-20) is likewise presented by the piano and repeated - and expanded - by the orchestra. Finally, a kind of development of the first theme leads on to the next section.
The second section (65-164) contains the next three themes. Theme 3 (65-73) is very different from the previous ones, due largely to its minor setting and its distinctive, Hungarian rhythm. Theme 4 (81-88) is still in a minor and theme 5 (97-104) is in F major. These three themes are each repeated back and forth several times, which gives the section the character of a development.
The third section (165-308) can be seen as a reprise of the first; it is built on the first two themes, but a striking new element is given in 201-205 and repeated in 238-241.
The fourth section (309-376) reprises themes 3, 5 and 4, in that order.
The final section, the coda, is built on the main theme, but even here (398) Brahms presents a new element, restating the main theme in triple rhythm (a device he used earlier to end his violin concerto) over a little march, first played by the piano, then answered by the orchestra, which trades themes with the soloist before the final chords.
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- Géza Anda with Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker (recorded in 1967) an earlier with the same orchestra conducted by Ferenc Fricsay (recorded in 1960 both on Deutsche Grammophon)
- Claudio Arrau with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (recorded in 1969 on Philips)
- Vladimir Ashkenazy with Bernard Haitink and the Wiener Philharmoniker (recorded in 1984 on London/Polygram Records)
- Emanuel Ax with Bernard Haitink and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1997 on Sony)
- Wilhelm Backhaus with Karl Böhm and Wiener Philharmoniker (recorded in 1953 and in 1967 both on Decca)
- Daniel Barenboim with Sergiu Celibidache and the Münchner Philharmoniker (recorded live in 1991)
- İdil Biret with Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 2000 on Naxos Records)
- Van Cliburn with Kirill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded live in concert in 1972, remastered and released by RCA Victor Red Seal Label in 1994)
- Van Cliburn with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (studio recording made in 1962 on RCA Living Stereo, LSC-2581, in 1962)
- Edwin Fischer with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berliner Philharmoniker (recorded live in 1942 on Deutsche Grammophon)
- Leon Fleisher with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (recorded in 1962 on Decca)
- Bruno Leonardo Gelber with Rudolf Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded in 1973 on EMI)
- Emil Gilels with Eugen Jochum, and the Berliner Philharmoniker (recorded in 1972 on Deutsche Grammophon), and an earlier interpretation with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1958 on RCA Victor)
- Horacio Gutiérrez with André Previn and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded in 1988 on Telarc Digital)
- Vladimir Horowitz with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1940 on RCA Victor)
- Stephen Kovacevich with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1979 on Philips)
- Ivan Moravec with Jiří Bělohlávek and Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded in 1988 on Supraphon)
- Maurizio Pollini with Claudio Abbado and the Wiener Philharmoniker (recorded in 1976) and performed later with the Berliner Philharmoniker (recorded live in 1995, both on Deutsche Grammophon)
- Sviatoslav Richter with Erich Leinsdorf and Chicago Symphony Orchestra (won for Best Classical Performance - Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra) at the Grammy Awards of 1961), and an earlier interpretation with Yevgeny Mravinsky as well as a later one with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Lorin Maazel (recorded in 1969 on His Master's Voice)
- Arthur Rubinstein with Witold Rowicki and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (live recording, 1960). Rubinstein made earlier recordings with the Victor Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josef Krips (RCA Victor, 1958), with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Munch (recorded in 1952 on RCA) and the London Symphony Orchestra under Albert Coates (the first recording of this work, made in 1929 on the His Master's Voice Label), as well as a later interpretation with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy (recorded in 1971 also on RCA Victor)
- Artur Schnabel with Adrian Boult and BBC Symphony Orchestra
- Rudolf Serkin with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (recorded in 1966 on Columbia)
- Igor Zhukov with Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio
- Krystian Zimerman with Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded in 1985 on Deutsche Grammophon)
- Hélène Grimaud with Andris Nelsons and the Vienna Philharmonic (2013, Deutsche Grammophon)
- http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/brahms_piano_con2.html[dead link]
- Allsen, J. Michael (2002). "Johannes Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2". Galveston Symphony Orchestra. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010.
- BBC Radio 3's Discovering Music (includes a video clip discussing the piece)
- Brahms' Orchestra Works (free music score of this composition available. In public domain.)
- Piano Concerto No. 2: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- First edition annotated in composer's hand at The Juilliard Manuscript Collection