Symphony No. 4 (Brahms)

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Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf
Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf
Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf
Orchesterwerke Romantik Themen.pdf

The Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms is the last of his symphonies. Brahms began working on the piece in Mürzzuschlag, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1884, just a year after completing his Symphony No. 3. It was premiered on October 25, 1885 in Meiningen, Germany.

Instrumentation[edit]

The symphony is scored for two flutes (one doubling on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle (third movement only), and strings.

Movements[edit]

The symphony is divided into four movements with the following tempo markings:

  1. Allegro non troppo (E minor)
  2. Andante moderato (E major)
  3. Allegro giocoso (C major)
  4. Allegro energico e passionato (E minor)

Among the four symphonies by Brahms this is the only one ending in a minor key. A typical performance lasts about 40 minutes.

Analysis[edit]

First movement: Allegro non troppo[edit]

This movement is in sonata form, although it features some unique approaches to development. For instance, there is no repeat of the exposition; according to the late Malcolm MacDonald, the music is so "powerfully organic and continuously unfolding" that such a repeat would hinder forward progress.[1]

The opening theme is initially serene in character, although its composition in a chain of descending thirds adds a fateful air. Its left-vs.-right fragmented melodic form (duh-DUM, da-DEE, duh-DUM, da-DEE) also introduces a feeling of conflict which Brahms uses as a fundamental motivation throughout the movement.

Bar Section Key Description
1 Primary theme E minor Starts with pick-up note. This relatively fragmented melody forms a descending sequence in the upper instruments in dialogue with the lower instruments. The notes (taken out of register) outline a descending major third – B, G, E, C, A, F, etc. – a unifying motif for this work.
19 Transition modulation to second theme Goes from E minor to the dominant B minor Starts by fragmenting the primary theme
53 Transition motif Transition motif: a rhythmic pattern in the woodwinds
57 Secondary theme period 1 B minor Initially in the cellos, then passed up into the violins with intermittent play with transition motif.
95 Secondary theme period 2 B major – parallel major of B minor In the woodwinds.
107 Transition motif B major Using transition motif pp to ff.
137 Transition modulation to development Lead from B major into E minor Using primary theme material
145 Development Various Starts with a statement of the primary theme before leading away into a development
246 Recapitulation E minor Slow version of primary theme in the upper instruments (initially in C major harmony) with intermittent use of transition motif followed by lengthy recapitulation of secondary theme block in the dominant key.
394 Coda E minor Final climactic statement of the primary theme in ff.

Second movement: Andante moderato[edit]

Featuring a theme in the Hypophrygian mode, heard at the beginning unaccompanied and at the end with a lush orchestral accompaniment, this movement has a modified sonata form with no development section.

Bar Section Key Description
1 Introduction C major (Phrygian mode) Introduction to the principal theme by horns
5 Principal theme E major Several statements of the principal theme
36 Transition theme B minor Dominated by the wind sections
41 Secondary theme B minor Initially in the cellos, then passed up into the violins
50 Secondary theme cadence and transition theme B major Using transition motif pp to ff.
64 Recapitulation Various keys Recapitulation quite similar in structure to the exposition
106 Coda E major (Phrygian mode) Free play of themes with frequent use of arpeggios

Third movement: Allegro giocoso[edit]

This movement is the only true scherzo found in Brahms' symphonies. It is in sonata form with foreshortened recapitulation and with the secondary theme nearly absent in the development and coda.

Bar Section Key Description
1 Primary theme C major and E major Primary theme consisting of three different periods (ordered 1–2–3–1)
46 Transition to secondary theme Transition to G major Based on the first period of the primary theme
52 Secondary theme G major Secondary theme followed by elements of a transition to the development
89 Development Various keys Based on the primary theme block with a slow trio-like section based on the second period of the first theme.
181 Transition to recapitulation Modulation from D major to C major
199 Recapitulation C and G key areas Restatement of primary theme starting with the second period (2–3–1) followed by restatement the secondary theme and then transition theme leading to coda
282 Coda C and G key areas Final statement of the period 1 and 2 of the primary theme block (in the order 1–2–1)

Fourth movement: Allegro energico e passionato[edit]

This last movement is notable as a rare example of a symphonic passacaglia, which is similar to a chaconne with the slight difference that the subject can appear in more voices than the bass. For the repeating theme, Brahms adapted the chaconne theme in the closing movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150.

An analysis of this last movement by Walter Frisch provides yet further interpretation to Brahms' structure of this work, by giving sections sonata form dimensions.

The symphony is rich in allusions, most notably to various Beethoven compositions. The symphony may well have been inspired by the play Antony and Cleopatra, which Brahms had been researching at the time.[2]

Arnold Schoenberg, in his essay Brahms the Progressive (Brahms is often characterized as being a conservative composer), pointed out several thematic relationships in the score, as does Malcolm MacDonald in his biography of the composer. The first half of the chaconne theme is anticipated in the bass during the coda at an important point of the preceding movement; and the first movement's descending thirds, transposed by a fifth, appear in counterpoint during one of the final variations of the chaconne.

Bar Section Key Description
1 Theme E minor Statement of theme and main chordal structure
9 Variations 1–11 Mostly in E minor/C major key areas as well as in other keys Variations match the bar count and chordal structure (though in some variations transposed to different key). 3
4
time
97 Variations 12–15 E major/A major key area Variations match the bar count (though with bars lasting twice as long) and chordal structure ((though transposed to different key areas)). 3
2
time
129 Variations 16–23 E major/A major key area Variations match the bar count and chordal structure (though transposed to different key areas). 3
4
time
193 Variations 24–26 Mostly in E minor/C major key area Structurally variation 24 is similar to variation 1, variation 25 is similar to variation 2 and variation 26 is similar to variation 3. 3
4
time
217 Variations 27–30 Mostly in E minor/C major key area Variations match the bar count and chordal structure (though transposed to different key areas). 3
4
time
249 Transition to coda E major/C major key area Extension of the last variation (variation 30).
253 Coda Many different key areas Playing on material from the variations with intermittent quasi-variations
297 Final statement of theme E minor Compressed statement of theme and final cadence

Reception[edit]

The work was given its premiere in Meiningen on October 25, 1885 with Brahms himself conducting. The piece had earlier been given to a small private audience in a version for two pianos, played by Brahms and Ignaz Brüll. Brahms' friend and biographer Max Kalbeck, reported that the critic Eduard Hanslick, acting as one of the page-turners, exclaimed on hearing the first movement at this performance: "For this whole movement I had the feeling that I was being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people."[3] Hanslick later spoke more approvingly of it, however.[citation needed]

Progressive rock group Yes' keyboardist Rick Wakeman used part of the symphony on the instrumental "Cans and Brahms" from the 1971 album Fragile.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ MacDonald, Malcolm (1990). Brahms (1st American ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. p. 314. ISBN 0-02-871393-1. 
  2. ^ "Brahms, Johannes" Britannica Encyclopedia, from Encyclopædia Britannica Deluxe Edition 2004 CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994–2003 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. May 30, 2003
  3. ^ Frisch, Walter (2003). Brahms: the Four Symphonies. Yale music masterworks. Yale University Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780300099652. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]