JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833–97)
Symphony No. 4 (1885)
“God forbid, it is nothing so aristocratic — I’ve merely put together another collection of polkas and waltzes,” Johannes Brahms disingenuously wrote to a friend about his Fourth Symphony, his grand farewell to the symphonic form, whose supreme master he had become. Brahms authority Malcolm MacDonald writes that in this work “Brahms’s inspired marriage of the contemporary and the archaic is reflected throughout the symphony, in which epic tragedy and melodic lyricism find their most powerful expression in the composer’s entire output.” In the opening movement you will hear simple two-note motifs combined to form long melodies, while the slow movement is warm and lyrical. The subsequent high-spirited Scherzo provides contrast with its energetic drive (the composer described it as “noisy, with three timpani, triangle and piccolo”). In the finale, Brahms takes a Bach-derived theme and masterfully varies it some 30 times before concluding his magnificent symphony. With this deeply emotional, autumnal work Brahms had reached the pinnacle of his symphonic output.