If, like me, you grew up watching Looney Tunes, then you grew up with Brahms.
Most of the music in that cartoon comes from Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Romantics in the mid-19th century decades became fascinated with different types of ethnic and world music. They sought ways to exploit them for their own music. In, of course, a Westernized Romantic way. It's hard to listen to that and hear real Gypsy music, as firmly associated now, as it is, in our minds with Brahms. And Looney Tunes.
More below, including the final two movements of the Brahms Symphony #1, which we started last week.
The Brahms Symphony #1 isn't in that ethnic mold, however, but in a Beethoven mold, the universal mold. Brahms' allies had promoted him as the new Beethoven, and by implication, the un-Wagner. This made Brahms uncomfortable not just because it raised expectations but because it made the composition of his first symphony a matter fraught with politics both musical and unmusical. So he delayed, delayed, delayed, what everybody expected to be Beethoven's Tenth Symphony, and very nearly is. It channels Beethoven to the extent of even musically quoting Beethoven in homage at key points, including a variation on the Ode to Joy theme from Beethoven's Ninth, which makes a striking appearance in the final movement as the main theme
The first time I heard this symphony, I didn't get a connection with Beethoven's Ninth, because I had never heard Beethoven's Ninth. Much later, I heard Beethoven's Ninth for the first time. When it got to the Ode to Joy part, I went, hummm... that reminds me of Brahms! The direction arrow got reversed for me.
One reason I decided last week to skip the symphony I had promised and to go with the Brahms #1 is that I knew I would never have a better tee-up, using it as a followup to Schubert's Ninth and the Beethoven homage implicit in that, and the discussion of Berlioz's Beethovenian reaction/counter-reaction. These three works, in particular, give us a better view of how drastically Beethoven raised everybody's game.
The format of the Brahms #1, for example, is based on the Beethoven "Triumph Symphony" model of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a model that we encounter again and again in post-Beethoven music. The format of Beethoven's Fifth can be described thus:
1. First movement. In a minor key. Tragic but feisty. The introduction contains short motifs that recur throughout the symphony as structural glue, especially at key moments. The movement ends ominously.
2. and 3. Second and third movements. A slow movement and a scherzo/dance movement. Nothing uniquely Beethoven about that, but in this formula the two movements use the motif of the first movement's introduction to remind us that they are part of an organic four movement musical message. They serve the purpose of lowering the tension and providing contrast with the first movement.
4. Finale. There is an ominous introduction returning us to the tense mood of the first movement. It hints at the possibility that things could go very badly here. Then suddenly we have a dramatic shift, and we have strong, courageous major key music. It's as if we are passing a moral test. The symphony ends in triumph over adversity.
I haven't just described Beethoven's Fifth or Brahms' First. I've just described a whole big bunch of symphonies that came after Beethoven.
Well, jeez, Dumbo, you say. If it's such a formula, then where's the creativity? You make it sound as rigid as a Brady Bunch episode.
Just because we have a formula within a genre of art doesn't mean the art using the formula isn't creative. It's all in how its done. Give Beethoven due credit for being the architect of form that he was. But it is a great form that uses music in a more ambitious way than it had been used before. It DEMANDS to be exploited! Music as moral struggle! How can you go back after that?
The nineteenth century would also see the invention of a counter formula to that, the dystopian symphony, the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony #6 being the model. Just like the Beethoven Fifth model, but, in the end, complete and utter devastation that leaves people walking out of the concert hall wishing they could eat a gun.
Furtwangler's 1951 performance, above, of the final movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th. I think I used Von Karajan when we did the diaries on Tchaikovsky's 6th. I really wanted to use Furtwangler, because it's so much more miserable, but the audio quality was too poor.
Now, we could compare either of those two moral symphonies, Beethoven's Fifth, or Tchaikovsky's Sixth, to earlier pre-Beethoven symphonies. For instance, the Mozart #40 in G minor ends rather tragically. Is Mozart's Symphony #40 like the Pathetique? Noooooo. Not even close! The message of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique is futile resistance to failure and death. We can try to impose a Tchaikovsky-ish program on Mozart's #40, but that feels forced; Mozart composed pure music and it has to be judged that way. We could also compare Beethoven's Fifth to Mozart's Symphony #41 in C, the Jupiter, with its monumental fugal conclusion. But here too, Mozart is pure music. His symphonies are not representations of moral combat in a four movement arc.
Brahms, particularly here, in his First Symphony, got that. We're headed towards a dramatic showdown of light and darkness. The stakes are high and the good guy's going to win.
DUMBO IS HIGHLY CAFFEINATED TONIGHT.
Yes, some very generous person has shown her support for my moral struggle by sending me a coffee cup. One that met my very special needs, as I described in this pic:
So I am less pitiful tonight than I was last week. Yay! I'm gloating.
(I promised to post a pic but I can't because, as I just discovered, my camera batteries crudded up and I will need to clean the contacts. The picture will have to be next week.)
So let's go to the music where we left off...
Brahms' Symphony #1 in C minor, Third movement, Un poco allegretto e grazioso (graceful and a little fast). Jascha Horenstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
The movement is in symmetrical ABACA form. If the first theme sounds familiar, you might want to compare it to the oboe theme from the middle of the second movement. They are very similar.
A section (0:00)
If the first theme, played here by the clarinet, sounds familiar, you might want to compare it to the oboe theme from the middle of the second movement. They are very similar. The mood here is very, very light and peaceful, to set up a contrast for the coming final movement. ]
The woodwinds do most of the heavy lifting in this movement (and in the previous second movement as well). Remember that the orchestra Brahms uses for this symphony is no larger than the normal Beethoven orchestra -- it just sounds bigger. The woodwinds, in particular, cut through with a fantastic beauty and clarity in Brahms hands. That's craftsmanship. As good as Beethoven was with everything else, he was crappy with woodwinds.
Also, notice how the recurring motif of the symphony, three chromatic half-steps, shows up again in the harmony. In Brahmsian style, it's buried in there so you have to pick it out.
The three note chromatic half-step motif of Brahms Symphony #1. Sometimes it goes down, sometimes it goes up.
I almost didn't make a graphic for this because it's hard to understand it if you do it in the right key, so I changed it to start at B and it made sense. I don't do this so you can read the music or play it, but so you can VISUALLY SEE THE PATTERN. I assume you're worse at reading music than I am, and I'm not very good at all.
As we recall, in the first movement, this motif showed up in the introduction as either three half-steps up or three half-steps down. In this movement, he inserts three downward half-steps at 0:30, so subtly you wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it. A couple of bars later, at 0:40, he does it again, but with three half-steps upward. Sneaky stuff, I know, but it allows us to enjoy the symphony at multiple levels, either as large scale drama or as musical tiddlywinks.
B Section (0:56)
We get a short contrasting minor key theme.
A Section again (1:22)
The A section returns again. But it's very brief, and is even interrupted by...
C Section (1:36)
The C section breaks into it in midstride. The rhythm changes here from 4/4 to 3/4. You might think a changeover of rhythm like that would be more obvious, but thanks again to Brahms' craftsmanship, it's dovetailed in in a way you don't notice it happening! So we have yet another fun listening game you can play with this movement: trying to find the rhythm changeovers.
The A section is coming back, so we're going to have to go back to 4/4 soon. Listen for how he does it at 2:53.
A Section again(3:07)
The main theme is back again, and we're back in 4/4. The theme seems to have learned something along the way, because it is changed.
This movement, like all the other movements, has a coda. In this case, a wistful look back. The first theme, now more subdued, passes over to the 3/4 C section, which (to my ears) seems to be saying, "Goodbye! It was nice meeting you all!"
And so we come down to a very, very, very gentle landing for a very gentle movement, one that is deliberately gentle to set us up for the storminess of the on-coming finale.
-------------------- END OF THIRD MOVEMENT -----------
If you want to grab a cup of coffee, please do! I don't want to have to drink alone! I'm drinking Brazil Cerrado light roast from CBLT today. Out of my special cup designed specifically for keeping me well-caffeinated and hyperkinetic while working on these dairies.
Brahms' Symphony #1 in C minor, Fourth movement, Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – Più allegro. Jascha Horenstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
As you can tell from the movement's tempo description above, there will be a few changes of mood and speed. It's in Sonata-Allegro form, our favorite thing in the whole classical music world, yay. We all mumble Exposition Development Recapitulation in our sleep, I'm sure. I know I do. As a reminder, just in case, here's my graphic that saves me typing:
Dumbo's Handy-Dandy Blue Graphic
There is a very long introduction to this movement. The introduction pulls us out of the warm rose-scented bathwater of the third movement and throws us into a bleak C Minor landscape familiar to us from the first movement, one we might have thought we had escaped. We haven't heard anything from the timpani for two movements. Right from the start, they are back. The woodwinds that dominated the second and third movement are in retreat. The organization of the intro is anarchic at first and filled with a sense of expectation of something terrible (or great) to come.
We begin the intro with a brief crescendo that immediately pulls back. Slinks back.
At 0:36, plucked strings give us an ominous chromatic theme, like someone sneaky tip-toeing up behind us. It speeds up at the tail end, becoming a little frantic before suffering a setback. At 1:24, again, it tiptoes upon us; again, it suffers a setback.
Over the foreboding thrum of the basses, a new and even more distressed theme emerges. It works its way up to a mini-climax. At 2:21, the mini-climax -- three chromatic half-steps. The recurring theme of the symphony. We're at a turning point. The drums punctuate the moment, and the orchestra fades away...
And now comes the greatest magical moment of the symphony, the great horn solo of the Brahms Symphony #1. 2:38. A solo French horn intercedes, bringing us out of the darkness of C minor, into the light of C major with a theme full of hope and courage that he claimed to have heard an Alpine horn play. "High on the hill, deep in the dale, I send you a thousand greetings!" Brahms wrote. We are pulled out of the despair of the introduction by this announcement, this turning point.
At 3:14, the horn theme passes to the flute.
At 3:56, the brass have a brief, religious-in-tone chorale like moment. The solo horn then returns with the great horn theme. (Earn a gold star if you can hear the three chromatic downward half-step motif in the harmony of it.) With rumbling drums, it climaxes, and fades away, setting us up for...
Exposition First Theme (5:05)
The main theme of the movement. And it's based on Beethoven's Ode to Joy, although Brahms isn't crass enough to just steal it without making it his own. It has a dignity and majesty, like a graduation commencement march. The strings carry it with great richness of texture (by using parallel thirds, if that kind of thing matters to you). At 5:40 it passes to the woodwinds, who repeat it.
See if you can hear the three chromatic half-step motif in the harmony of the theme. (Like, at 5:54).
As the woodwinds come near the end of their restatement of the theme, the orchestral tension rises. At 6:10, the theme passes now to the full orchestra, who throw away their staid bearing and let the theme burst out in mad joy, all the madder and more joyful for the long, long buildup we have had to this moment.
At 6:43, we transition to G major, setting us up for...
Exposition Second Theme (6:53)
Actually a group of themes here, the first one, in the strings, at 6:53. Then a second one in the oboes at 7:17, with the chromatic downward half-step motif in the harmony.
We get a third one at 7:37 in the strings. If it sounds familiar, it's because it's based on the "distressed" music of the intro just before the horn solo came in.
At 8:14, this third theme works itself up towards a mini-climax to round off the exposition. It's a little vague here, at the end of the exposition, whether we're ending in the sunny G major, or the darker E minor. Brahms exploits this ambiguity to add to the drama of metaphorical moral conflict. Who will win, the (metaphorical) good guys or the (metaphorical) bad guys?
We finally end the exposition with a cadence in E minor. Bad guys, I guess.
Development Section (8:54)
And with a quick transition, we are suddenly back in the home key of C major, and there's our main theme again, in its majestic form. SOMETIMES, there will be a repeat of the exposition here in performances, and I think it actually benefits from it. Whether they do or don't, the effect at this point, when the development starts, is we get the sense that we are back at the beginning of the exposition.
Not so! As we find out at 9:20, when this familiar theme changes course and changes key. And begins to travel from key, to key. Where are we going? Dark notes try to sneak into our happy theme but they are shrugged off. As the tension rises, the "madly joyous" version of the main theme returns to enter the fray.
At 10:18, we tumble down a hole, and through a whole bunch of different key changes. This part is very Bach-like with complex counterpoint. At 10:38, it seems to bottom out temporarily. The tonality of the harmony has become gradually less stable as this development has gone along. At 11:01, it becomes twisted and grotesque, reminiscent of the angular sharp-edgedness of the first movement.
We're building towards the climax now. It doesn't take much projection on my part, I don't think, to characterize this as a musical battle. At 11:19, the brass come in fighting with a fragment of the main theme.
At 11:40, it becomes more dissonant and the tempo changes, becomes more broken. The crisis is at hand.
The Crisis 11:55, and we finally crash headfirst into an immovable barrier with a massively dissonant chord that brings all forward propulsion to a stop.
This massively dissonant chord morphs. It transforms itself into... The beautiful horn solo theme! It returns to rescue us yet again. And we're back in the home key, finally, of warm, happy, C major.
Recapitulation Second Theme Group Again (12:47)
The recapitulation skips the first theme, which we've heard quite a bit of, and goes straight to the second theme group. It begins in a very subdued manner, unlike the boisterousness of its first appearance in the exposition. I suppose it's a bit tuckered out from all the drama of the development. But it regains its momentum and carries us through the rest of the themes, ending finally, at the very end, in C minor.
C minor? That's the bad guy key. Who's (metaphorically) winning this (metaphorical) moral battle? And so we enter the coda where we'll get final resolution on that.
The coda begins with a series of mystical sounding chords, changing the tone of things.
At 15:00, the main theme returns, or part of it, anyway. But now it is in the deep bass, and there's a scary hungry growl to it. It rises higher, higher, higher, the rest of the orchestra backing away from it fearfully. The tension rises to new heights.
At 15:25, we break out into a full gallop, with the drums and brass leading the way. We're building to a climax. And...
At 15:40, the brass rise to ascendancy. The religiously-toned chorale-like chords of the intro return, but with devastating climactic authority.
Now that's a "Triumph Symphony" for you!
At 15:56, we begin the final gallop, heading for the big satisfying C major finish. What a journey.
And we're done.
--------------------- THE END -----------------------
Next week: Next Thursday, June 28, Ramara's going to do a diary for us on Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio. I'm going to be here, sipping coffee out of my triumph cup, reading it, just like you. REMEMBER, to read it, look for the CMOPUS tag next week, or just a diary titled Thursday Classical Music, because it won't be under my name.
The week after that, I'll be back with the Saint-Saens Symphony #3 in C minor, "The Organ Symphony." I might be able to do that in one diary.