Seriously, I love Brahms. I went to music college and realised I had played all the solo clarinet works by Brahms after six months and decided that that would do (yes I am boiling down what was actually quite a difficult time into a vaguely amusing anecdote). At university I got pretty obsessed with reading all the letters between Brahms and Clara Schumann. I have seen his glasses in a museum. I have very much enjoyed listening to these recordings of him (potentially) speaking and playing the piano.
It is also worth noting that I don’t just love Brahms musically, but I am not the only one….
It’s acceptable to have a crush on a man that is 150 years older than you, right?! I mean, look at these eyes! Anyway, I’ve now played all of his Symphonies and they are an absolute joy, even if they also rip your heart out. I’ve played a mixture of first and second parts when I’ve played these symphonies and both parts are completely gorgeous and engrossing to play. I’m hoping at some point I’ll get to play the alternative parts in future. Anyway, here are the notes I wrote about his Third Symphony for this time around.
Brahms is often referred to as one of “the three Bs” of classical music, alongside Bach and Beethoven. But for Brahms the power of Beethoven’s musical legacy was too much to bear and the weight of the Beethovenian standards he set for himself meant it took Brahms 20 years to write his first symphony. Fortunately, his three other symphonies each took only about a year. Music critic and Brahms enthusiast Eduard Hanslick described his Third Symphony as ‘artistically the most perfect’, and it was immediately successful after its premiere in 1883.
When Brahms was writing his Third Symphony, he was a confirmed bachelor who had just reached the age of 50. He had taken for himself the motto ‘Frei aber froh’ (Free but happy). Translated into music, this motto becomes the motif F-A-F, and this opens the symphony in a powerful statement. However this soon gives way to flowing passages in the winds, though the motif appears again as this opening section repeats. The layers of yearning in the music build up, until the movement ends with a more settled repetition of this opening motif.
The second movement, something of a melancholy intermezzo, opens with solos in the woodwinds supported by the strings. There is stillness that blossoms into beautiful but churning passages, a glimpse back to some of the drama of the first movement, but the stillness wins out. The yearning continues in the third movement which is full of mournful beauty. The melody introduced by the cellos has a singing quality that is taken and developed around the orchestra to eke out every possible emotion from it.
The final movement returns to high drama, at first suppressing the tension and excitement until it has to burst out across the orchestra. The drama plays itself out until the it dissipates, and the symphony draws to a peaceful and restful conclusion.