Recording: Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claudio Abbado [DG 435 683-2]
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (from Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke):
1st Movement: Allegro non troppo (Sonata-Allegro form). E MINOR, Cut time [2/2].
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1. With no introduction at all, the main theme begins with a violin upbeat, almost in mid-thought. The melody consists of upbeats leading into downbeats, continually reversing direction. The pitches actually form a chain of thirds, descending in the first four bars and ascending in the second four. The violas and cellos accompany with harmonized arpeggios, while flutes, clarinets, and bassoons provide punctuating weak beat chords, the horns sustaining chords and octaves.
0:19 [m. 9]--Theme 1 continues as the violins now stick to the note “C” on long notes with winding three-note upbeats. The bass line now moves up chromatically (by half-step). The wind chords are less detached.
0:27 [m. 13]--The violin figures become shorter, with two upbeats in each bar. This leads to two smoother four-note descending lines, an octave leap (echoed by the oboe) and a cadence that merges with the following varied statement of the theme.
0:38 [m. 19]--Varied statement of Theme 1. The upbeats and downbeats are played in broken octaves. Violas and woodwinds play new descending scale lines, and the weak beat punctuations are in low strings.
0:52 [m. 27]--The second part of the theme now slides upward by half-steps (from the initial C) on the long notes and steadily builds in volume.
0:59 [m. 31]--The shorter figures now lead into a huge expansion. This reaches a loud volume level, with more woodwind participation.
1:13 [m. 39]--The expansion continues with a syncopated descending line and more agitated short figures. The harmony moves toward the minor version of the “dominant” key of B. The climax is reached with two large descending lines merging into dotted (long-short) rhythms.
1:37 [m. 53]--Transition. The extended transition begins with fanfare-like figures, including a triplet rhythm, in the woodwinds. The full orchestra provides a descending response in dotted rhythm. There follows a very broad cello melody doubled by horns. The remaining strings and winds provide a strongly rhythmic accompaniment of four punctuating harmonized descents of four thirds each (B minor).
1:56 [m. 65]--The cello melody is transferred to the violins in octaves. The full orchestra except violins takes the punctuating descents of thirds. The last of these is extended to five thirds in the low strings. This last bass note helps to avert an expected strong arrival on a B-minor cadence.
2:09 [m. 73]--The expected cadence on B minor is thwarted by a sudden and strong re-appearance of the woodwind fanfares, this time underpinned by loud syncopated chords in the strings, on G major/minor. An accented descent leads to a repetition of the same fanfares on C major/minor. This then dissipates into a series of detached two-note figures passed between plucked (pizzicato) strings and woodwinds, both in unison and leading back to B.
2:31 [m. 87]--Theme 2. The arrival is in the major key. The strings continue to pluck leaping figures, now in harmony, as the winds enter with syncopated chords. The violins then emerge with a warm, rich descending melody in dotted rhythm accompanied by pulsating triplets in violas and cellos. This diminishes suddenly in volume (B major).
2:46 [m. 95]--Flute, clarinet and horn present a new melody that includes triplet rhythms. The strings accompany with short pairs of repeated notes. The oboe and horn then merge into the descending melody in dotted rhythm. The short pairs continue in the strings. The dotted melody reaches a point of repose, with three-note figures passed between horn and flute, both underpinned by the oboe.
3:08 [m. 107]--Closing Section. The repose of the second theme is interrupted by a sudden dissonant (diminished) chord on G-sharp. The volume remains quiet, but the calm is disturbed by a timpani roll (the drums making their first entrance here) and the fanfare rhythm on the trumpet. Under the held wind chord, the strings play a unison arpeggio that arches upward, then down as the bass slides down to G. The closing theme itself, a quiet major-key version of the wind fanfare with isolated three-note interjections, follows.
3:21 [m. 114]--The wind fanfares are interrupted by another quiet diminished chord (this time on E-sharp) with drum roll and trumpet fanfares. The string arpeggios are extended to nearly twice the length, with more short descents. The bass slides down by half-steps as the oboe, bassoons and horn slide up. The volume swells. After reaching C-sharp, the bass moves back to E-sharp. Then the B-major fanfares enter again, this time forcefully on the strings with trumpet and horn punctuation, followed by a joyous arching wind response in triplet rhythm.
3:40 [m. 125]--The string fanfares suddenly shift up to D major. Other winds join in the punctuations. The fanfares and triplet rhythms become even more insistent as the harmony moves back to B major. The climax comes with an exuberant dotted rhythm.
4:00 [m. 137]--The expected strong and forceful cadence on B is again somewhat averted, this time by a sudden soft volume as it is reached. Harmonized upbeat descents reminiscent of Theme 1, beginning in flutes and bassoons, but then incorporating the other winds, bring the exposition to a quiet close. They are accompanied by arpeggios in low strings and detached weak beat echoes in the violins. Three figures lead to a sustained wind chord that starts to propel the music back to the home key of E minor. The pattern is repeated a step lower, leading to a highly unstable and dissonant chord (a diminished seventh).
4:16 [m. 145]--The previous passage is set up in a way that makes an exposition repeat expected. Brahms plays a formal game here by beginning the development section as if it were an exposition repeat. His only symphonic first movement to lack such a repeat thus deceives the listener into thinking that there is one. The first eight-bar phrase with its chains of thirds is heard as it was at the movement’s beginning.
4:31 [m. 153]--The arrival of the long C’s with winding three-note upbeats diverges from the exposition. The harmonies are new from the outset and lack the rising chromatic bass line, and the weak beat wind chords drop out in favor of a smooth clarinet descent.
4:38 [m. 157]--The winding upbeats develop into a flowing line with syncopations over bar lines. It is passed between violin groups. The flutes and bassoons, later joined by oboes, introduce three-note stepwise patterns harmonized in thirds and sixths. The clarinets later add a flowing accompaniment that dovetails with the violin lines. These patterns begin in G minor, but move toward A-flat major. The long notes with winding upbeats return in the woodwinds in A-flat, accompanied by violins and filled with quiet tension.
4:59 [m. 169]--Suddenly, there is a huge outburst in the strings. Groups of three powerful chords are passed between the violins and the low strings as the winds and horns alternate a neighbor-note figure in dotted rhythms. These powerful three-note groups begin on the last upbeats of the bars, so the downbeat is obscured. The passage vacillates between the related keys of B-flat minor and D-flat major before pivoting to B minor/major (approached by its alternate identity as C-flat). At the end, the strings gradually come together as the winds abandon their dotted rhythm and take over the alternation from the low strings.
5:26 [m. 184]--As at 2:09 [m. 73], an expected arrival on B is thwarted by a deceptive motion to G, but this time it is suddenly quiet as well (pianissimo). The passage is a sort of mixture between those at 2:09 [m. 73] and 3:08 [m. 107]. The fanfares and triplets are heard in the strings with their typical major/minor mixture, but the drum roll, sustained horn octave, and mysterious character recall the later moment.
5:33 [m. 188]--Very quietly, flutes, clarinets, and bassoons play the fanfares in unison, sotto voce. These lead to the quiet string arpeggios as heard at 3:08 [m. 107]. Figures reminiscent of Theme 1 are heard in the oboes. These, as well as the sustained bass note and the arpeggio, suggest C minor. Other winds then enter as the bass note shifts up a half-step.
5:49 [m. 196]--The string arpeggios and oboe figures are again played over the new bass note (C-sharp). The other winds again shift the bass note upward to D. It remains there much more briefly before a harmonized oboe and horn descent helps it move up one more half-step, to D-sharp. There, the string arpeggios dissipate under a drum roll. The “mysterious” fanfares and triplets are now played by the winds, arching up and back down in yet another attempt to establish the “dominant” harmony of B major/minor.
6:10 [m. 206]--In a sudden outburst, the fanfares blast forth in their original character in the strings, with trumpet and horn responses. The winds then join as the fanfares gradually move to A-flat major. The triplet figures begin a boisterous descent in the winds and brass as the fanfare rhythm continues in the strings. The strings then lead another descent, with the winds responding. A-flat major is changed to G-sharp minor (same keynote), where a strong cadence is reached.
6:27 [m. 217]--The winds begin a long passage in G-sharp minor of stepwise triplet motion harmonized in thirds. After two loud punctuations, they become quiet. Clarinets and bassoons, then oboes, then clarinets again, play the sinuous thirds. Against this, and quite surprisingly, the violins, playing pizzicato, present the first phrase of Theme 1 in its entirety, all played on the offbeat and harmonized by violas and flutes, the cellos and basses providing a plucked foundation on the downbeats.
6:45 [m. 227]--Re-transition. The second part of Theme 1, the long note with the winding three-note upbeat, is heard in two sequences with the four-note groups passed from the flute to three string sections (violas, then cellos, then violins), the other strings and winds alternating on the background harmonies. The second sequence is a step higher than the first.
7:00 [m. 235]--Four shorter sequences follow, each with a winding figure played by a wind instrument followed by a descending figure played by a string group. The first two alternate clarinet and violins, the third one oboe and violins, and the last one (with the same pitches as the third) clarinet and violas. The other winds and strings provide background harmonies, again in alternation. These sequences become very quiet. The entire passage from 6:45 [m. 227] has moved from G-sharp minor in rising sequences to arrive back home at E minor.
7:18 [m. 243]--After the last sequence, the winds drop out and the strings very quietly (triple piano), led by cellos, bridge into the mysterious beginning of the recapitulation, hanging on the “dominant“ chord.
7:27 [m. 247]--The moment of return is disguised, as the development began with Theme 1 in its original form. The original notes of Theme 1 are heard in oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, but they are twice as long, quiet, mysterious, and sustained. At the arrival of the fourth note, there is a link to previous passages such as 3:08 [m. 107] and 5:33 [m. 188]. The note is underpinned with a new harmony (a C major chord colored by a pervasive foreign note, A-flat), quiet string arpeggios, and a drum roll, and is sustained for three bars.
7:40 [m. 253]--The same process occurs for the next four notes (completing the “descending” portion of the chain of thirds). The fourth note is underpinned by harmony and arpeggios suggesting G major or E minor (the home key), with the “color” note of D-sharp.
7:54 [m. 259]--After the disguised beginning, the recapitulation slides into its normally expected path, picking up with the “ascending” chain of thirds and then continuing as at 0:19 [m. 9] and 0:27 [m. 13].
8:20 [m. 273]--Varied statement of Theme 1, as at 0:38 [m. 19] and 0:52 [m. 27].
8:41 [m. 285]--The expansion from 0:59 [m. 31] and 1:13 [m. 39] is greatly curtailed. The removal of ten bars from the passage allows it to remain at home in E minor for the transition and second theme group.
9:01 [m. 297]--Transition from 1:37 [m. 53] now in the home key. Woodwind fanfares and triplet rhythms, followed by horn/cello melody with rhythmic accompaniment (four groups of four descending thirds).
9:21 [m. 309]--Continuation of melody on violins, as at 1:56 [m. 65]. Averted arrival on an E-minor cadence.
9:33 [m. 317]--Fanfares and syncopated chords, as at 2:09 [m. 73] on C minor/major, then F minor/major. This is followed by detached, unison two-note figures passed between plucked strings and woodwinds, leading back to E.
9:55 [m. 331]--Theme 2, as at 2:31 [m. 87], now in E major.
10:10 [m. 339]--Continuation as at 2:46 [m. 95], with the roles of the woodwind instruments somewhat reversed. Arrival at point of repose.
10:32 [m. 351]--Closing section, as at 3:08 [m. 107] and 3:21 [m. 114]. The fanfare figures are played by a horn instead of a trumpet. The diminished chords and string arpeggios are on C-sharp (sliding down to C), then (following the major-key version of the fanfare and triplets) on A-sharp. Drum rolls, as before. The sliding bass descent is again followed by the joyous outburst of fanfares with trumpets and horns, followed by the arching wind response in triplets.
11:04 [m. 369]--This passage diverges from 3:40 [m. 125]. The shift of the fanfares is to G-sharp, a half-step higher than the expected (and analogous) G. The climactic passage is extended. Whereas the corresponding passage in the exposition moved back to the major key after the shifted fanfares, it now moves back to E minor (instead of major), since the end is approaching and this ultimately tragic movement must conclude in minor where it began. This occurs via the related key of G major.
11:22 [m. 381]--The closing section is further extended with accented, syncopated string triplets, passing down through F major (and including a last wind fanfare) to arrive, finally, on E minor. The triplets become more and more forceful and dramatic, culminating on two harmonized wind descents (punctuated by two loud outbursts) and a tremolo string arpeggio leading into the powerful coda. The end of this passage is surprisingly similar to the quiet one at 6:27 [m. 217] in the development. This earlier passage was underpinned by the quiet weak beat plucked string version of Theme 1, whose apotheosis follows here.
11:42 [m. 394]--Theme 1 is presented in imitation with low strings and horns answered by the rest of the orchestra. It is stark and powerful. After four bars, the leading voice (low strings and horns) begins to play in syncopation. The Theme 1 material continues with the following elements (long notes with winding three-note upbeats, then the short, detached upbeat figures), working toward a climax.
12:12 [m. 414]--The large descending lines from the climax of Theme 1 before the transition in both the exposition and recapitulation now become the climax of the movement. They lead to accented, tragic short descents from the winds and low strings against a powerful violin tremolo arpeggio. This material builds even more intensity in the full orchestra over thundering timpani rolls before a powerful E-minor cadence.
12:45 [m. 436]--Five punctuating chords from the full orchestra mark the arrival. Then the movement closes with a broad plagal cadence, with a sustained “subdominant” (A-minor) chord over four thumping timpani beats moving to the final E-minor chord. Such a plagal cadence was originally planned by Brahms to open the movement before he deleted it in favor of the more direct beginning.
13:05--END OF MOVEMENT [440 mm.]
2nd Movement: Andante moderato (Varied Sonata form without development). E MAJOR, 6/8 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction. The introduction actually anticipates Theme 1, but these austere slow fanfares, played first by a solo horn which is then joined by the other winds (excluding clarinets), are not in the “right” key. The fanfares begin on E, but the notes used are those from C major. The fanfares are actually in the Phrygian mode, which has a half-step between the first and second notes of the scale. This mode is often associated with the note E because it has no sharps or flats when centered there.
0:30 [m. 5]--Theme 1. The absence of the clarinets in the preceding fanfares is explained by their leading role in presenting the full theme that is derived from their distinctive dotted rhythms. They share this very quiet presentation with plucked violins. The remaining accompanying strings are also plucked. Bassoons and later flutes provide further accompaniment. While the theme is now clearly in major because of the notes F-sharp and G-sharp, the persistent C-natural and D-natural are vestiges of the Phrygian introduction.
1:18 [m. 13]--The horns take over the presentation of Theme 1 from the clarinets and plucked violins, with counterpoint from bassoons and continued plucked string accompaniment.
1:30 [m. 15]--Suddenly, the clarinets re-enter alone with the bassoons. They now strongly play the fanfares with the persistent foreign (“Phrygian”) notes. The plucked strings have short punctuations. The other winds enter on forceful rising arpeggios. These respond to the clarinet/bassoon fanfares twice in sequence, the first suggesting B major and the second G major. Clarinets and bassoons then play trailing passages in groups of three that diminish in volume. The horns enter in preparation for another statement of the theme.
2:08 [m. 22]--The trailing clarinets and bassoons have moved back toward E. Theme 1 begins another full statement. The plucked strings play as before, but the horn, clarinet, and bassoons that support them drop out two times, leaving the plucked strings exposed as they complete the first phrase.
2:32 [m. 26]--The clarinets, bassoons, and horns re-enter at the end of the first phrase, and the plucked strings drop out. The clarinets lead again for the second phrase of the theme. The plucked strings make a tentative appearance toward the end of the phrase. The leading clarinet then suddenly and unexpectedly abandons the modal inflections and moves to a full cadence in E, which has thus far been avoided.
2:57 [m. 30]--Theme 1 finally flowers into a beautiful, warm melody in E major. It is played by the violins, bowing for the first time in the movement. Violas and cellos, still plucked, provide accompaniment in rising triplet arpeggios. The winds also accompany with mildly syncopated lines. The violins then plunge downward in arpeggios before a change of key to the “dominant” of B, the line quickly rising again to an expectant repeated note. Here, the remaining strings take up their bows for the first time.
3:35 [m. 36]--Transition theme. Beginning halfway through the bar, the woodwinds present an austere and dramatic harmonized melody in detached triplet rhythm. The strings then reply. This pattern is repeated with altered harmony (natural instead of melodic minor). A single horn begins to pulse on a syncopated repeated note under three rising woodwind chords. The horn is isolated, quickly diminishing, then the three chords are repeated an octave lower, stretched out, and at a quiet volume, leading into Theme 2 (B minor).
4:02 [m. 41]--Theme 2. The cellos play a very warm and beautiful major-key theme, slowly rising and falling in a stepwise motion. All winds except bassoons drop out. The violins provide a decorative accompaniment characterized by short rests. The bassoons and violas provide a counterpoint to the cellos. The theme reaches a full cadence (B major).
TRANSITION TO RECAPITULATION (in lieu of Development Section)
4:56 [m. 50]--The cadence of Theme 2 merges into echoes from clarinet, violins, bassoons, and then cellos again. The strings then lead an extension of the theme, rising and falling in pitch and volume. This is echoed by flutes, clarinets and bassoons, the strings continuing with rising two-note figures.
5:34 [m. 57]--The music dissipates into the rising two-note figures, passed from strings to woodwinds. The flute is then isolated in alternation with the violins. The violas take over the alternation from the flute. The violas then expand the two-note figures into a sweeping, but quiet arpeggio, passed to the violins, who move up and back down twice The arpeggios are accompanied first by solemn horns and bassoons, then by oboes and clarinets with bassoons. A harmonized rising line from the flutes leads to the recapitulation.
6:14 [m. 64]--Theme 1. The theme is rescored. The violins are still plucked, as are cellos and basses, but the violas are not. They substitute for the clarinets in presenting the melody. The woodwinds themselves pass harmonized descending groups (usually thirds) between them. Flutes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons are heard, but oboes are not. The timpani are heard for the first time on soft rolls.
7:00 [m. 72]--Horns begin another presentation of Theme 1 with bassoons and plucked strings (now including violas), as at 1:18 [m. 13].
7:12 [m. 74]--The fanfares enter again as at 1:30 [m. 15], but now all woodwinds play together in unison. The violins (bowed) take over halfway through the first statement. A very active counterpoint with shorter notes takes over in the violas. This then moves to the violins as well, as the woodwinds enter with their response to the fanfares. The response suggest B major, as before.
7:23 [m. 76]--The second statement of the fanfares is taken by the low strings. The following response continues the active, rapid motion in shorter notes, mostly in arpeggios, expanding on what was heard in the exposition, but still suggesting G major. The winds drop out, and the strings continue, the violins playing the fanfare rhythms in a descending sequence before passing them to the low strings and moving to the faster notes with the violas. The passage moves to B-flat.
7:43 [m. 80]--A harmonized blast of the fanfare from winds and horns is followed by a string response. The strings forcefully continue, and the winds then respond to them. The strings begin another sequence, but they continue with a resumption of the rapid motion, including triplets in the violas, as the winds respond with the fanfare rhythm. This passage moves from B-flat to B and builds to a climax.
8:06 [m. 84]--Transition Theme. The preceding development has replaced the last statement of Theme 1 from 2:08 [m. 22] and its more melodious variation at 2:57 [m. 30]. Now the transition enters in the home minor key (E minor), played forcefully by the whole orchestra, including thundering timpani. This is the climax of the movement. The triplet rhythm is extended by half a bar, but there is only one statement of the three rising chords (in their longer version), now from horns and bassoons without the repeated pulsation.
8:32 [m. 88]--Theme 2, in the home key of E major. The violins play the melody. The decorative accompaniment with the rests is absent, and the cellos play the counterpoint formerly taken by the bassoons. The winds are completely absent until the end of the melody, where bassoons and clarinets, then flutes and oboes enter in syncopation in thirds and sixths, while violins and violas suddenly and actively descend over a dramatic crescendo.
9:36 [m. 98]--Theme 2 is given a new and dramatic variation in place of the previous transition to the recapitulation. It is played in exuberant syncopation from both strings and woodwinds with timpani rolls.
10:01 [m. 102]--This suddenly breaks off. The strings quietly begin the second half of the theme. Then clarinets and bassoons, accompanied by a horn, take over in thirds with four rising figures containing dotted rhythms as the strings begin to pluck, leading into the coda. The clarinets and bassoons then play the three slow, syncopated rising chords from the end of the transition.
10:28 [m. 106]--The low strings play a sustained note (the dominant note, B), while the violins and violas play mysterious arpeggios (marked triple piano) on a diminished chord and the timpani begins a soft roll. The clarinets play fragments of Theme 1 similar to those heard at 2:32 [m. 26]. The oboe later takes over the fragments. This moment is reminiscent of the similar “mysterious” passages in the first movement.
11:02 [m. 111]--The rapid, soft arpeggios and the timpani roll break off. After a notated general break, the principal clarinet resumes the Theme 1 material with string accompaniment, slowing to a satisfying resolution and cadence on E.
11:22 [m. 113]--At the moment of the cadence, the horns suddenly start to blast out the original fanfares as heard in the introduction. They are accompanied by rising lines in bassoons, violins and violas, and rising triplet arpeggios in the cellos. The accompaniment, still in E, clashes with the “Phrygian” horns. The woodwinds join with the horns on the fanfares. Now, the Phrygian mode is re-interpreted as C major mixed with E major. C begins to function as a “dominant” chord, suggesting the previously unheard F major.
11:44 [m. 116]--The fanfares end and the music again quiets down. Three rising arpeggios follow with an unusual harmonic sequence. First, the cellos play one in C major. Then the clarinets in E major. Finally, the flute and oboe play over a timpani roll in F major, a harmony strongly implied earlier. This F-major arpeggio slides down to the final E-major chord. This cadence is known as a “Phrygian” cadence, and is highly appropriate given the use of that mode in the movement. The final chord is sustained by woodwinds and horns. Strings (with timpani) punctuate it three times, the last time plucked
12:09--END OF MOVEMENT [118 mm.]
3rd Movement: Allegro giocoso (Sonata form with foreshortened recapitulation). C MAJOR, 2/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1, Part 1. Brahms adds piccolo, contrabassoon, and triangle to the orchestra. The opening is played by the full orchestra in a loud, exuberant manner. There are two lines in contrary motion, descending steps from the higher instruments and ascending steps from the lower ones. These change direction on longer notes. They are arrested by an accented loud chord with a drum roll
0:09 [m. 6]--Theme 1, Part 2. The theme resumes with detached repeated chords, beginning with a short-short-long rhythm and continuing with faster notes than at the opening.
0:12 [m. 10]--Theme 1, Part 3. A very abrupt harmonic shift leads to a loud fanfare in E-flat major with descending neighbor-note turns. The accents are very strong and on the weak beats of bars. There are more drum rolls. A descending string arpeggio in triplets leads back to C major.
0:21 [m. 19]--Theme 1, Part 2 resumes after the interruption of Part 3, now played more smoothly and quietly, without the short-short-long repeated notes. It is greatly extended. A long crescendo begins, culminating in an extended timpani roll and downward-arching, rushing string scales.
0:37 [m. 35]--Theme 1, Part 1, now inverted with the higher instruments moving up and the lower ones moving down. The arresting loud chord is now more fully harmonized, and marks the first entrance of the ringing triangle.
0:43 [m. 40]--Transition. Theme 1, Part 2 seems to begin again with the triangle, but its direction is altered, and there is a motion toward the “dominant” key of G major. All instruments except the low strings drop out. They descend by thirds in the short-short-long repeated notes, quickly diminishing in volume. The violins and violas play another chain of descending thirds with the repeated notes. Finally, the flute, clarinet, and bassoon play a longer chain of descending thirds in single notes, the repeated notes continuing in the violas.
0:54 [m. 52]--Theme 2. A more gentle and graceful, but jaunty melody from the first violins with light accompaniment from the other strings and running responses from piccolo, flute, clarinets, and bassoons. A trill leads to the next phrase (G major).
1:06 [m. 63]--The winds take over the melody, straightening it out and passing it between them. The strings play a more rhythmic accompaniment, all plucked except for a bowed triplet rhythm counterpoint in the violas. The triangle enters here with light rhythmic tapping.
1:20 [m. 77]--The strings, all bowed, begin a closing phrase that develops into a re-transition. This becomes more ominous, and the whole orchestra enters, including a large timpani roll, over a huge crescendo. The motion is back to C major and to Theme 1.
1:32 [m. 89]--Theme 1, Part 1 begins as at the start of the movement. The “arresting” chord is now expanded and passed between two large groups. The first includes strings, bassoons, horns, and timpani. The second includes the other woodwinds, trumpets, and a prominent, rolled triangle. Clarinets play in both groups. The first group plays loudly, the second softly for two rising sequences.
1:45 [m. 100]--The two large groups unite and play alternating low and high chords for three rising sequences. Timpani are only played on the low chords; flute, piccolo, oboes, trumpets, and triangle only on the high ones. Following these sequences, Theme 1, Part 2 begins. It is interrupted by two large, syncopated chords (with triangle and timpani rolls), then continues and is developed, moving to the related minor key, A minor.
2:01 [m. 117]--Further development of Theme 1, Part 2. Fragments are passed between strings and winds, the latter accompanied by plucked strings. The strings and winds then unite, playing in counterpoint on the material of Theme 1, Part 2. This passage moves from A minor to E major.
2:23 [m. 139]--Development of Theme 1, Part 1 in C-sharp minor (the relative key to the previous E major). First the winds play the “inverted” version in harmony, with syncopated accompaniment from violas and cellos (playing with the bassoons). Then the strings play the original “descending” version in stark unison. The groups join for a brief bridge before the winds drop out completely.
2:36 [m. 151]--Further development of Theme 1, Parts 1 and 2 in C-sharp minor by strings alone. This becomes ever quieter, trailing off to triple piano. The fragments become shorter, the low strings begin plucking, and all is suspended on a plucked unison C-sharp from all strings before a pause.
2:55 [m. 168]--The triangle punctuates a very quiet, syncopated entry of Theme 1, Part 1 played by all winds and horns. This is in D-flat major (the major-key version of the previous key; C-sharp and D-flat are the same note). The “arresting” pause from the plucked strings leads to a trailing, descending bassoon line with chords from the other winds. The strings then enter, bowed, as does a timpani roll for two quiet transitional chords.
3:11 [m. 181]--Re-transition. Brahms marks this passage Poco meno presto. It is a moment of respite, despite the transitional character. The horns, bassoons, and clarinets begin a very tranquil version of the formerly boisterous Theme 1, Part 3 in D-flat major, accompanied by plucked strings. The oboe then takes over the melody. The strings take up their bows as the music moves away from D-flat. Flute and piccolo enter. The music is passed between strings and winds, and moves to the expectant “dominant” chord of the home key, C major. This passage is somewhat reminiscent of the main theme from the second movement.
3:38 [m. 199]--The expected arrival on C at the moment of the recapitulation is thwarted by the sudden blast of Theme 1, Part 3 in its original form and in its original key of E-flat (as at 0:12 [m. 10]). We thus hear two very different versions of this material juxtaposed. The beginning of the recapitulation here also indicates that the openings of Parts 1 and 2 of the theme at the beginning of the development constituted their “reprise.” Compare the first movement, whose development also begins with the main theme.
3:47 [m. 208]--Theme 1, Part 2, as at 0:21 [m. 19], with some very minor variations in the string figuration.
4:03 [m. 224]--The “inverted” version of Theme 1, Part 1 from 0:37 [m. 35] is stretched to twice its length and mixed with the “original” version before the large “arresting” chord with triangle.
4:13 [m. 233]--Transition. It begins a fourth higher, so that the music can remain in the home key rather than moving to G major. There is also some slight variation, including some jaunty syncopation. The descending thirds from the low strings, then the violins and violas, are heard. Clarinet and horns insert a slight extension before the longer chain of thirds in the winds. Here the oboe takes over from the clarinet. The repeated notes are not heard in the violas here.
4:27 [m. 247]--Theme 2, in the home key of C major. An oboe joins the violins in the presentation of the jaunty melody. The running responses are heard from the same instruments as before. There is some new harmony in the horns. The previous quiet trill is replaced by a large swelling and a timpani roll.
4:39 [m. 258]--The passage from 1:06 [m. 63] is transformed into a very martial passage with triplets in the character of Theme 1, Part 3. The material still belongs to Theme 2. The passage is also extended with new chromatic harmonies. There is a steady buildup of energy and excitement.
4:58 [m. 276]--The closing phrase from 1:20 [m. 77] is now played in loud, punctuating two-chord descents from the whole orchestra. These seem to be leading to a strong cadence, but diverge over a bass line that descends in half-steps. The harmony moves to the “dominant” chord in this transition to the coda.
5:04 [m. 282]--Very suddenly and quietly, the short-short-long rhythm begins to be tapped on the timpani. This continues at some length. The string basses, later joined by cellos, start a long series of repetitions of the note G. In G minor, fragments of Theme 1 are heard passed between the instruments. This builds in volume with loud horn blasts, the timpani beats and low string thumping on G remaining constant.
5:27 [m. 305]--C major seems to emerge over the thumping G’s, which are joined by horns and trumpets. The thumping G’s are suddenly abandoned, and the music is unexpectedly diverted to the “subdominant” key of F major, where Theme 1, Part 1 is heard and reaches a full cadence.
5:39 [m. 317]--The F-major cadence merges with sequences of high and low chords similar to those at 1:45 [m. 100]. All instruments play on the high chords, and only the flute, piccolo, and triangle drop out from the low ones. There are five chords, high-low-high-low-high.
5:49 [m. 326]--Loud statements of Theme 1, Part 2 developed in B-flat major (reached from F major by the preceding chords), then a half-step lower, in A major. The B-flat major portion has thumping timpani and ringing triangle on the short-short-long rhythm.
6:00 [m. 337]--The purpose of A major is revealed: The relationship of A to C is the same as that from C to E-flat. The A major was to prepare for the sudden entrance of Theme 1, Part 3, heard for the first time in the home key of C rather than E-flat, the key of its two previous (equally sudden) appearances. The difference here is that the preceding music is also strong and loud. Theme 1, Part 3 itself is therefore intensified with ringing triangle rolls. The strings play flourishes of Theme 1, Part 2 underneath it.
6:09 [m. 347]--Final appearance of Theme 1, Part 1. The strings now play only the descending line in unison. The longer chords are harmonized. The winds gradually enter. A violin flourish with a timpani roll leads to a joyous chord with triangle roll. Three short chords with triangle and timpani bring the movement to a close.
6:25--END OF MOVEMENT [357 mm.]
4th Movement: Allegro energico e passionato - Più Allegro (Passacaglia [Chaconne] with coda). E MINOR, 3/4 and 3/2 time.
FIRST SECTION (Theme and Variations 1-11), 3/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme. Brahms retains the contrabassoon from the previous movement and adds three trombones, not heard in the other movements. The eight-bar Chaconne theme is presented by the winds and brass. It is an ascending scale to the fifth degree (B), with a chromatic note (A-sharp) on the firth bar. The theme ends with a motion back to E. The harmonization of the theme is very ambiguous and suggests A minor almost as much as E minor (the first chord is an inversion of A minor). The entrance of timpani and trumpets on the fifth (chromatic) note gives it the emphasis that will reach its full fruition in the coda.
0:19 [m. 9]--Variation 1. The theme is broken up. Timpani and horns play on the first beat of each bar, plucked strings (with trombones in the first four bars) on the second beat, and there is a rest on the third. The harmony is unchanged.
0:34 [m. 17]--Variation 2. The upbeats to this variation dovetail with the end of Variation 1. The oboe and clarinet begin a smooth line. They are joined by the other winds. Plucked strings continue. The harmony is less ambiguous now, more clearly in E minor (confirmed by the “dominant” chord in the seventh bar).
0:51 [m. 25]--Variation 3. The full orchestra plays on this variation, which is louder than the preceding Variation 2. The winds introduce a three-note (or three-chord) lower neighbor motion. The upper strings continue to play plucked notes, but the cellos and basses play bowed arpeggios. E minor is even more clearly established here, already in the second bar There is a timpani roll in the seventh bar.
1:06 [m. 33]--Variation 4. With E minor now established, the first violins begin a broad, arching melody above second violins and violas, who play on syncopated off beats. All strings are now bowed. Bassoons are the only winds present. The “theme” itself is now moved to the bass instruments in downward octaves.
1:26 [m. 41]--Variation 5. Flowing naturally out of Variation 4, the broad melody is embellished with extra notes. All notes have smaller duration values. The winds add descending embellishments, some in a clashing 3-against-2 triplet rhythm.
1:41 [m. 49]--Variation 6. The contour of the broad melody is changed so that it mostly arches downward. The violins and violas still play the melody. Cellos play triplet arpeggios. The wind commentary is more sparse, largely in two-note descents. The oboes double the second violins in the last four bars.
1:56 [m. 57]--Variation 7. The motion is more rhythmic and heavily dotted (sharp long-short figures). The violins again lead, with woodwind responses. The “theme” in the bass also uses these dotted rhythms. The violins introduce a hemiola (two 3/4 bars rhythmically re-arranged to suggest one 3/2 bar) in the sixth and seventh bars.
2:12 [m. 65]--Variation 8. The violins play with even faster notes in a rapid oscillation with the lower notes moving steadily downward. These oscillations are broken twice. The wind accompaniment is slower. In the second half, the variation becomes suddenly quiet, and a descending chromatic (half-step motion) flute (and viola) line is added to the violin oscillations, along with a soft timpani roll. The harmony and the notes of the theme itself in the bass are altered to suggest a motion to A minor.
2:28 [m. 73]--Variation 9. This is essentially an embellished version of Variation 8 (compare variations 4 and 5). It introduces triplet motion, even faster than what was heard in Variation 8. The sudden quiet in the fifth bar is preserved. Oboe and bassoon (the latter in contrary motion) are added to the descending chromatic flute line, but the violas no longer play it. This soft timpani roll is played in the same place. The oscillations in the second half are now on octaves (on E) rather than the downward-moving lower line.
2:45 [m. 81]--Variation 10. The first of two transitional variations. It begins in A minor, following the endings of Variations 8 and 9, which were in that key. It is played very quietly, with alternations between string and wind chords with no brass. A motion back to E minor at the end is sidestepped.
3:01 [m. 89]--Variation 11. This also begins in A minor. The soft chords from Variation 10 are broken up. The first and third bars use triplet rhythm. There is much emphasis and playing on the second half of each beat, especially in the violins and violas during the last four bars. Winds and strings play mostly together here, and horns are added in the first four bars. The actual “theme” is still in the low strings. The last bar appears to be moving toward E minor again, and while this motion is not sidestepped, the preparatory “dominant” harmony is delayed until the last bar so that the arrival of E minor at Variation 12 is stronger.
SECOND SECTION (Variations 12-15), 3/2 time.
3:20 [m. 97]--Variation 12. Although these variations seem to be at a slower tempo, in actuality the bars are simply twice as long. Brahms specifically indicates that the speed of the notes should be the same. This variation is a very expressive flute solo with short off-beat accompanying chords from violins, violas, and horns. The theme is embedded in the long and beautiful, but somewhat halting flute melody.
4:03 [m. 105]--Variation 13. This is the first variation in the major key (E major). The violins and horns continue their soft, detached off-beat chords. The clarinet and oboe pass gentle rising and falling lines between them. The cellos and violas add upward winding lines. In the last four bars, the flutes join the oboe and clarinets, and all play the off-beat chords as the strings, including violins, continue with the upward winding lines. The notes of the theme are buried inconspicuously in the musical texture. A descending oboe line leads to the next variation. The resolution through a plagal cadence is delayed.
4:38 [m. 113]--Variation 14. The end of the oboe line merges with this variation, also in major. The trombones, heard for the first time since Variation 3, enter in a very solemn chorale with expressive rests. They are joined by bassoons and horns. The violas and cellos play short rising arpeggios against the trombone chorale. The resolution in the last measure is delayed, again using a plagal cadence (motion from A to E). A horn line similar to the preceding oboe line in Variation 13 provides a similar bridge.
5:14 [m. 121]--Variation 15. The chorale continues (still in major), but now the woodwinds (except flutes), join the brass instruments, including now trumpets. The violins join the other strings on the short responses, the violas and violins playing descending lines against the rising lines of the cellos. The resolution of a plagal cadence is again delayed, and this time it is not fulfilled at the beginning of the next variation. The flute enters with a similar descending transitional line, but then it breaks off at a pause on A minor before the sudden and powerful entry of the next section. This prepares for the opening A-minor chord of Variation 16, which is highly similar to the original Theme.
THIRD SECTION (Variations 16-23), 3/4 time.
5:55 [m. 129]--Variation 16. With great force, the winds begin the variation, back in 3/4 and back in the minor key. It opens as had the original Theme, but with somewhat different harmonization (still beginning on A minor, though, now with A in the bass). The strings enter with a new and powerful descending scale in the last four bars. The timpani roll begins in the same place and is now more sustained. The last chord, with an F-sharp in the bass, is more dissonant and unstable than it was in the original Theme
6:08 [m. 137]--Variation 17. String tremolos swell from a quiet volume. Flute, oboe, and bassoon play unison two-note phrases on weak beats. The original theme is in the tremolo cellos, but, as at the end of Variation 16, the F-sharp bass at the end reveals this group of variations as developmental and less stable.
6:19 [m. 145]--Variation 18. The tremolos continue in the violins and violas. Bassoons, horns, cellos, and basses alternate with flute, oboe, clarinet, another horn, and trombones on a swelling up-down neighbor-note motion with dotted rhythm on the second and third beats. The trombones drop out and the instruments come more together in the second half of the variation. This one, unlike the previous two, ends with an E-minor chord.
6:30 [m. 153]--Variation 19. Strings and horns now alternate with woodwinds four times on a detached, moving line, arching in the strings and more angular in the winds. In the last two alternations, the winds play the more arching version. The strings take the angular version in the last alternation. The cellos and basses, along with trombones, provide a solid foundation to the first three string alternations. This, as with Variations 8, 9, and 13-15, ends with an A-minor chord.
6:41 [m. 161]--Variation 20. A feverish triplet motion begins in strings, winds, and horns. There is a strong syncopation with a trombone blast on the second beats of the first, third, and fifth bars. The strings play the triplets continuously, while the winds and horns break in the second and fourth bars. In the last three bars, the winds abandon the triplets entirely in favor of punctuating chords. This variation also ends on an A-minor chord, as does the next one.
6:52 [m. 169]--Variation 21. The tension increases greatly here, as the flutes and violins play sweeping upward scales against swelling wind lines, viola tremolos, and timpani rolls. This occurs in the first and third bars. The trombones play weak beat blasts on the second beats of the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth bars. The fourth, fifth and sixth bars consist of punctuating chords from winds and strings on the first and third beats, interrupted by the trombone blasts. The last two bars are suddenly very quiet. The sweeping, rapid scales are passed between the strings over a soft timpani roll and sustained wind and brass chords.
7:04 [m. 177]--Variation 22. This variation is quiet throughout. Trombones drop out temporarily. The strings pass an oscillating triplet rhythm from cellos to violas to violins. The winds play off-beat chords in straight rhythm. The strings come together in the fifth bar. In these last four bars, the triplet oscillations and off-beat chords alternate between strings and winds. This variation ends on E minor.
7:15 [m. 185]--Variation 23. This variation is transitional and louder than the last one. The strings play upward arpeggios in triplet rhythm, alternating with oscillating motion in the winds, also in triplet rhythm. The horns play the first six chords of the theme very distinctly. A strong timpani roll is heard in the fifth bar (against the “chromatic” fifth note, as before). The last three bars alternate the string and wind triplets at the distance of one beat before they come together in the last bar. These last three bars are on a sustained preparatory “dominant” harmony, similar to the end of Variation 11. There is a dramatic pause at the end.
FOURTH SECTION (Variations 24-30)
7:27 [m. 193]--Variation 24. The structure is quite similar to that of Variation 1, but the character is entirely different. The downbeats are played by horns and trumpets with a timpani roll. For the first six bars, this is a unison E. The responses (which carry the notes of the theme) are from the strings with a downward neighbor-note figure in triplets. These are supported by trombone chords and repeated chords in straight rhythm from the woodwinds. The variation is a powerful moment of arrival.
7:39 [m. 201]--Variation 25. This variation is essentially a more powerful version of Variation 2. Like that variation, it begins on the upbeat from the previous variation. The oboe and clarinet line is transferred to forceful violins playing in tremolo, supported by oboes and bassoons. The triplets from the previous variation, now in repeated chords, are played by brass, timpani, flutes, and clarinets. The low strings play with these triplets, but they play rising octaves in straight rhythm. After this variation, the trombones drop out until the coda.
7:52 [m. 209]--Variation 26. This variation is similar to Variation 3, but it takes the opposite path from the previous variation, and is more subdued than Variation 3 had been. The horns take the slow lower neighbor-note motion. The strings play in quietly oscillating triplets underneath. In the second half, the oboes in thirds take over the neighbor-note figures from the horns. The most important difference is the harmony, which is shifted to C minor/major. The basses hold that note for the first four bars, and the variation ends on the “dominant” chord of C. This harmonic shift helps build tension in the final variations.
8:05 [m. 217]--Variation 27. This variation, in full C major, is entirely new. Flutes, oboes, and clarinets play long two-note descents harmonized in thirds. The low strings are plucked on the two weak beats. The violas and some cellos play decorative lines that begin on an off-beat. In the last four bars, the violins join with a slow arching motion, also harmonized in thirds. The variation is quiet and gentle.
8:17 [m. 225]--Variation 28. This also begins in C major. The flutes, clarinets, and bassoons play a smooth line, still harmonized in thirds, but including many biting chromatic notes. The low strings continue to be plucked, but move to the first two beats. The violas and violins pass arching triplet arpeggios between them. The last four bars move strongly from C back to E with a bass line rising in half-steps. Despite its transitional and chromatic nature, the variation is one of the most beautiful since the “slow” section.
8:28 [m. 233]--Variation 29. In the penultimate variation, which returns to the home key of E minor, Brahms makes a reference to the main theme of the first movement. The strings, playing in plucked unison off the beat, play a continuous chain of descending thirds in the first four bars, a major characteristic of the first-movement theme. Against this, the flute, supported by clarinets and bassoons, plays two-note rising leaps that obscure the bar line. In the last four bars, the strings take their bows, a horn enters, and all instruments play in smooth, partly chromatic lines, the winds moving up at the end while the strings turn downward.
8:40 [m. 241]--Variation 30. The last variation makes the descending third chain even more explicit. It is played loudly and with heavy accents. The low strings lead the violins in imitation on the descending third chain at the distance of one beat. The winds and violas play sharp chords off the beat (where the plucked unison strings had played the descending thirds in Variation 29). The fifth bar of the variation changes to strong upward leaps in the violins, the off-beat chords continuing in the winds and violas. The timpani and trumpets enter in the sixth bar.
8:52 [m. 249]--In a dramatic extension to Variation 30 that acts as a transition to the coda, the eight-bar units are finally broken. The leaping violins and cellos widen to octaves and tenths. The horns also play octaves. These are held across bar lines, first in the horns and low strings, then in the violins, then horns and low strings again, creating cross rhythms and a hemiola (four 3/4 bars clashing with two implied 3/2 bars). The winds play chords with the violins. The violas are isolated, playing thirds in faster syncopation. The timpani beats become faster and louder, emerging in a roll, and the tempo slows just enough to prepare the coda. The last bar is on a striking “augmented” chord that suggests both E major and C major.
9:00 [m. 253]--The tempo speeds up slightly for the coda. It begins with what sounds like “Variation 31,” with full winds and brass (including trombones) blasting the harmonized theme against cascading string arpeggios played tremolo. It stalls, however, on the fifth bar, the dissonant note A-sharp (now notated as B-flat) This note, and the chords supporting it, are stretched out to four bars with two strong timpani rolls and two dramatic pauses.
9:08 [m. 261]--In what sounds like “Variation 32,“ the B-flat slides up to B-natural in a chord with winds and plucked strings. This slides again up to C in a second chord, yet again giving that note and that harmony emphasis. The bass continues to move chromatically upward with both half-steps and leaps (usually of a fourth) against strongly arching violin tremolo arpeggios. The trombones enter in the fifth bar. The “variation” is extended four bars, vacillating strongly between E major and F major (a key introduced by the C and the B-flat). It increases steadily in intensity.
9:21 [m. 273]--“Variation 33” brings the music back to the realm of A minor and E minor, despite beginning with a strong implication of F. The trombones play a rising line that clearly recalls the Theme. Strings and winds play punctuating chords separated by rests. This creates another hemiola, with eight 3/4 bars re-arranged into four implied 3/2 bars. The trombone lines are extended by longer chords and drum rolls. The “dissonant” note is still notated as B-flat rather than the A-sharp used throughout the variations. The “variation” is an extension of the first four bars of the Theme, facilitated by the implied 3/2 bars.
9:28 [m. 281]--“Variation 34” begins with a drop in volume, but steadily and dramatically builds. The violins and winds lead an exhilarating alternation of ascending and descending harmonized three-note groups. Timpani, trumpets, and horns punctuate this while the violas play shimmering repeated thirds in triplets. This passage is the last of the “pseudo-variations” in the coda.
9:35 [m. 289]--The winds appear to play the Theme in faster notes. A loud syncopated accent from the rest of the orchestra on the “dissonant” note, again notated as A-sharp, finally interprets the harmony underneath it as a “German sixth” chord, which leads to the “dominant” chord of E minor, then strongly resolves there. The sequence is repeated a second time. This confirmation of E minor has a severe, even “tragic” effect.
9:42 [m. 297]--The last bars consist of a fast and syncopated version of the Theme, then a series of five cadence gestures beginning with three-note upbeats, all confirming E minor. The last of these is extended, winding downward. The final two chords strongly punctuate the arrival with a timpani roll.
10:02--END OF MOVEMENT [311 mm.]
END OF SYMPHONY
BRAHMS LISTENING GUIDES HOME
That Brahms initially approached the symphonic form with trepidation is fairly evident from the chronology of his works. It wasn't until the age of 43 that he completed his First Symphony. Indeed, the composer's output to that point suggests a conscious process of self-education. A number of smaller-scale orchestral works, including the Variations on a Theme of Haydn and the proto-symphonic Piano Concerto No. 1, suggest preparation for what Brahms clearly saw as the elusive of compositional enterprises. He was to meet the challenge with a skill and individual spirit, one of Classicism refracted through the prism of high Romanticism, that led many to pronounce him heir to Beethoven.
Brahms' Fourth Symphony (1885), his last, provides with its serious tone, striking complexities, and inspired construction a fitting valedictory to his work in this genre. That its impact was immediate if initially puzzling is clear from the account by the biographer Max Kalbeck of its first run-through (at two pianos) for a small and distinguished audience:
"After the wonderful Allegro...I expected that one of those present would break out in a loud 'Bravo.' Into his blond beard [conductor Hans] Richter murmured something that from afar would be taken as an expression of approval.... The others remained persistently quiet.... Finally Brahms grumbled, "So, let's go on!" and gave a sign to continue; whereupon [eminent critic Eduard] Hanslick heaved a sigh and quickly exploded, as if he had to relieve his mind and yet feared speaking up too late: 'For this whole movement I had the feeling that I was being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people....'"
Each of the movements bears the distinct stamp of the composer's personality. The first begins with a theme in E minor based upon the interval of a third, which also provides a structural and motivic foundation for the remainder of the work. There is a notable sense of unrest from beginning to end, and the tragic, even fatalistic atmosphere is further and stunningly underlined by the final, minor-key plagal (IV-I) cadence. The second movement, which opens with a brief, melancholy sort of fanfare, gives way to the quietly accompanied winds in perhaps one of the loveliest of any of the composer's themes, granted particular plangency through the use of the flat sixth and seventh scale degrees borrowed from the minor mode. This material is gradually developed into soaring, tutti lyricism that fades into ethereal quiet. The third movement, a lusty, stomping, duple dance, proved so popular in Brahms' lifetime that audiences constantly demanded that it be repeated. The last movement is perhaps most notable of all, cast as it is in the "archaic" Baroque form of a chaconne -- variations over a ground bass. The chaconne's subject is in fact a slight modification of that used by Bach in his Cantata No. 150; though deceptively simple -- essentially an ascending minor scale segment from the tonic note to the dominant, then a leap back to the tonic -- Brahms uses this skeleton as the basis for an increasingly elaborate and thematic harmonic framework. From its first presentation, which is not as a bass line, but as a theme in the winds, Brahms gradually weaves some 34 variations that steadily build in intensity, as though in defiance to the oppressive, insistent rotation of the ground. The final variations lead directly into an ending which reconfirms the weight of tragedy and pathos borne by the first movement.