Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 73
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.
Brahms spent the summer of 1877 in Pörtschach, a tiny Austrian village on Lake Wörth. It was there, between the months of June and September 1877, that Brahms composed his Second Symphony. The first performance of the Brahms Second Symphony took place on December 30, 1877, at the concert hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. The eminent conductor, Hans Richter, led the Vienna Philharmonic.
The D-Major Symphony seems to reflect the composer’s relaxed state of mind during the happy summer of 1877. The lyrical character of the work—sometimes referred to as Brahms’s “Pörtschach” or “Pastoral” Symphony—certainly is in marked contrast to the storm and stress that pervades the C-minor First (although to be sure, the Second Symphony has its moments of conflict as well, particularly in the first two movements).
Brahms referred to his Second Symphony as a “charming new monster” and, in typically self-deprecating fashion, told his friend, Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, that it was merely a little Sinfonia. That of course, is hardly the case, and in spite of Brahms’s protestations to critic Eduard Hanslick that “there is nothing clever about it,” the Second Symphony is a remarkably intricate and unified composition. In its own genial fashion, the D-Major Symphony is as musically and dramatically rewarding as the heroic C-minor First (1876).
The Symphony No. 2 is in four movements. The first (Allegro non troppo) opens with the cellos and basses intoning a three-note motif that will return in various guises throughout the Symphony. The movement also includes a waltz-like theme that recalls the composer’s beloved “Lullaby,” Opus 49, No. 4 (1868). The slow-tempo second movement (Adagio non troppo) alternates lyrical repose with moments of tension, not resolved until the final bars. The third movement (Allegretto grazioso) opens with the oboe’s presentation of the sprightly principal melody that returns throughout, alternating with fleet interludes. The concluding movement (Allegro con spirito), the most cheerful finale among Brahms’s Four Symphonies, radiates energy and optimism from start to finish.
Notes by Ken Meltzer © 2020