Brahms in the Shadow of Beethoven

It occurs to me frequently how difficult it must have been for Johannes Brahms to achieve success as a composer. First of all, he began as a pianist, then as a choral director. He toured Europe and gave concerts with violinst Joseph Joachim. He must have known that anything he introduces to the fussy Viennese public would inevitably be compared with Beethoven’s music.

Think about this in terms of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony which allows us to experience the Austrian countryside, the storm, and the the Vienna Woods all through the sounds of music.

Composed during the summer of 1877, which Brahms spent at the idyllic Wörthersee, Brahms’ Symphony number 2 is one of his sunniest works, often compared to Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. On this CD, it is followed by the Haydn Variations, in which Brahms was able to combine one of his favorite musical forms – that of theme and variations – with his deep admiration for Joseph Haydn.

The program continues with other favorites in Brahms’ production, including his greatest commercial success in the form of three of the hugely popular set of Hungarian Dances for piano, here in orchestrations by Thomas Dausgaard. The disc ends in similarly high spirits, with the Academic Festival Overture and its rousing and jubilant C major coda.

Here is the Brahms Symphony number 2, as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by the great Carlos Kleiber:

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