International tour – Vienna
About the program
Brahms, the composer of symphonies, is central to the BFO’s season. We presented the third and fourth symphonies in September, and now, at the end of the season, Iván Fischer and his orchestra round off their Brahms cycle with the first and the second.
Brahms was merely twenty when he tried his hand at the genre of symphony. He set the first drafts to paper in 1854, but soon got stuck. He continued it in 1862, when he almost completed the first movement, but then he put it aside, and his symphony-writing career saw another long hiatus. The first symphony took fifteen years to complete. One reason for the long delay was his fear of the towering presence of Beethoven’s oeuvre, of his own first being taken for Beethoven’s tenth (something which, in fact, was often brought up against him). The work had its premiere in November 1876, in Leipzig.
The lukewarm reception of Symphony No. 1 notwithstanding, Brahms set to work on the second almost immediately, apparently overcoming his inhibitions about the genre. “The new symphony is so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning,” wrote Brahms to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, shortly before its premiere on 30 December 1877. Simrock had nothing to worry about, since the composer wrote in jest. The piece he composed in Pörtschach, the idyllic resort town by Wörthersee, is one of the sunniest in his oeuvre. Thanks to what was a light tone by Brahmsian standards, it immediately became a great success. Theodor Billroth, a Viennese surgeon friend, described its pastoral mood as “all rippling streams, blue sky, sunshine, and cool green shadows”.