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Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
Johannes Brahms
b. Hamburg, Germany / May 7, 1833; d. Vienna, Austria / April 3, 1897


Brahms had not yet become the sturdy conservative whom his supporters set up as the opponent of Wagner, Liszt and other revolutionary composers when, in 1854 at the age of 21, he began composing a large-scale work. He eventually decided that the ideal medium for the materials was a concerto for piano and orchestra. Four years passed before he felt sufficiently satisfied to bring it to performance. He first undertook a reading rehearsal in Hanover, Germany, on March 30, 1858. He played the piano part himself, and his close friend, violinist and composer Joseph Joachim, conducted the city’s court orchestra. The first public performance, involving the same artists, took place in the same city on January 22 of the following year. The somewhat puzzled reaction earned by the debut of this big, serious, fully symphonic concerto might have been expected. Not until 1865, when he played it once again in Mannheim, did it begin to find a place in the repertoire.

The vast opening movement begins with a stark orchestral introduction. The piano enters with a more resigned idea before it, too, is caught up in the emotional tumult. Contrast is provided by a warmer second theme. The sombre mood in which the movement began continues through to the final bars.
The slow second section is a serene meditation. Scarcely a ripple of darker emotion disturbs its warm, placid surface. The concerto concludes with a big, bold rondo, lighter in tone than the preceding movements but substantial enough to fit into the overall ground-plan. Its Hungarian or gypsy flavouring anticipates the corresponding movements in several Brahms works, including the Piano Quartet in G Minor and the Violin Concerto.

Program Notes Don Anderson 2012

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