About this Recording
8.550018 - BRAHMS : Symphony No. 2

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) Symphony No.2 in D major, Opus 73

Allegro non troppo
Adagio ma non troppo - L 'istesso ma gracioso
Allegretto gracioso (Quasi Andantino) - Presto ma non assai
Allegro con spirito

In 1853 Robert Schumann detected in the young Brahms "a man singled out to make articulate an ideal way of the highest expression of our time". Here indeed was the long awaited successor to Beethoven, and Schumann was prepared, like some St. John the Baptist, to declare the fact. The "veiled symphonies in sound" that Schumann had heard were not transformed into real symphonies until relatively late in Brahms' life. Much, after all, had been expected of him, and this may explain in some measure his relative diffidence, his distrust of his own abilities.

Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His father was a musician, a double-bass player, and his mother a seamstress some 17 years older than her husband. The family was poor, and as a boy Brahms earned money by playing the piano in dockside taverns for the entertainment of sailors. Nevertheless his talent brought him support, and teaching from Eduard Marxsen.

After a period earning a living in Hamburg as a teacher and as a dance saloon pianist, Brahms first emerged as a pianist and as a composer in 1853, when he went on a brief tour with the Hungarian violinist Re­menyi, met Joachim and on the latter's introduction visited Liszt in Weimar. The later visit to Schumann in Duesseldorf, again brought about through the violinist Joachim, had more far-reaching results.

Schumann was soon to suffer a mental break-down, that led to his death in 1856 in an asylum. Brahms became a firm friend of Clara Schu­mann and remained so until her death in 1896.

The greater part of Brahms' career was to be spent in Vienna, where he finally settled in 1863. There he established a-pattern of life that was to continue until his own death in 1897. He appeared as a pianist, principally in his own compositions, played with more insight than accuracy, and impressed the public with a series of compositions of strength, originality and technical perfection. Here was a demonstra­tion that, contrary to the view of Wagner or Liszt, there was still much to be said in the traditional forms of music. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was not the last word. Critics, indeed, hailed Brahms' First Symphony in 1876 as Beethoven's Tenth.

If Brahms' First Symphony seemed to stem from Beethoven's Nin­th, the Second Symphony appears to have its origin in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The critic Eduard Hanslick, the self-appointed champion of Brahms and firm opponent of the "Wagner-Liszt house­hold", found in the work "serene cheerfulness, at once manly and gen­tle, animated alternately by pleased good humour and reflective serious­ness" The symphony was started during the Brahms' summer holiday at Poertschach on the Woerthersee in 1877. Brahms' friend, the surgeon Theodor Billroth, playing through the symphony on the piano, found in it all the natural beauty of the place. The work was complet­ed at Lichtenthal, near Baden-Baden, in the autumn, and given its first performance at the end of December by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Hans Richter.

The first movement proclaims its mood at the very opening, an air of pastoral serenity, including in its scope a contrapuntal development and a moment or two of Mendelssohn, but never in any way what Brahms had ironically offered his publisher, a work of the deepest melancholy.

The slow movement, an extended aria, is darker in hue, but gently meditative rather than tragic. It leads to a Scherzo of grace and charm, set off by two interruptions in a duple-time Presto.

Hanslick diagnosed, in the veins of the last movement, the blood of Mozart. The movement, at times robustly cheerful, is rather more than that, exemplifying the composer's command of counterpoint, and maintaining, in spite of the occasional cloud, a mood that Hanslick summed up as redolent of "the spring blossoms of the earth".

Libor Pešek
Libor Pešek ranks among the most prominent Czechoslovak con­ductors. He graduated from the Prague College of Music and Drama and was the driving force behind the Chamber Harmony, the Sebastian Orchestra, and the East Bohemian Orchestra in Pardubice. He was con­ductor-in-chief to the orchestra in Leewarden and later in Ensched in Holland.

In 1986, Libor Pešek was named Musical Director of the Royal Liver­pool Philharmonic, a position he now holds in addition to being one of the principal conductors of the Czech Philharmonic.

Part of his extensive repertoire has been recorded in Czechoslovakia and abroad, earning, among other distinctions, the Grand Prix de Disque.

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