Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Symphony No. 1 in C Minor - Brahms
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor
1. Un poco sostenuto. Allegro.
2. Andante sostenuto.
3. Un poco allegretto e graziozo.
4. Adagio più andante. Allegro moderato con brio.
Brahms waited until he was forty-nine years of age before he produced his first symphony. Rumors of its coming preceded it many years, but when the composer was questioned about them he only remarked that there had been one C minor (Beethoven's Fifth), and there was no need of another. In the autumn of 1876, however, it made its appearance, and created an enthusiasm which found its most flattering expression in Von Bülow's remark: "We have at last a Tenth symphony."
The symphony opens with a short introduction of an agitated and somewhat melancholy but harmonious character and based upon the two themes of the Allegro, from which it is separated by four measures of prelude. It is in reality a clear, general statement of the movement, the principal theme of which is given out by the violins, accompanied by a chromatic phrase for the cello and bassoon, which appears again with a phrase derived from the first theme for its accompaniment, thus admirably preserving the unity of the movement. The second subject, full of hopeful aspiration, is taken by the oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns, treated as we have already indicated, and supplemented by a new melody in the oboes, supported by a sustained passage in bassoons, violas, and cellos, one measure of which is used in imitation between the clarinet, horn, flute, and bassoon, producing a quieter and more restful feeling. A new figure for the strings, however, soon recalls the old unrest, and thus the first section of the Allegro closes. After the repeat and the working out of the movement a fine effect is made by a long descrecendo, leading up to a passage which begins almost in a whisper and is developed by degrees to a tremendous fortissimo. The movements closes with a Coda in the same time and general character as the opening, developed with constantly increasing power.
The second movement opens with an exquisitely melodious theme in the strings, followed by an intensely passionate second them, also in the strings, accompanied by a phrase from the opening melody -- a form of treatment already observed in the Allegro movement. After this the first theme returns, this time, however, for the oboe, with response by the clarinet, and an accompaniment of staccato chords for the violins and violas. In the close of the movement the first melody is divided as a solo between the violin and flute, with a charming accompaniment, and characterized by genuine romantic sentiment.
The third movement is introduced with a sweet and graceful melody for the clarinet, followed by an equally graceful subject for clarinet and flute. The third melody is also announced by the clarinet and finished by the flute and oboe with string accompaniment. The Trio is in strong contrast with the opening of the movement. At its close the first section is not repeated, as is customary in a Scherzo, whose place the movement occupies, but its themes are developed with charming grace and skill in a Coda.
The Finale is the most powerful and dramatic section of the work, and is evidently intended as a summary of the whole symphony. It is composed of an Introduction, Adagio, più andante, and an Allegro. The Introduction opens with three descending bass notes of highly tragic expression, gradually increasing in power, which are subsequently utilized for accompaniment in the Allegro; and the violins give out a very dramatic phrase, which also forms the opening theme of that movement. All through this majestic Adagio, which seems to be an alternation between hope and fate, and this is intensified when with an acceleration of the time and change of key to C major the horns and trombones are introduced, the former uttering a most passionate theme and the latter filling in a solid background of mysterious harmony. The opening theme of the Allegro recalls the choral melody of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It is introduced in the strings, assisted by the horn and bassoons, and is then repeated by the wind instruments accompanied pizzicato in the strings. Its effect is magical. To the preceding gloom, mystery, and passion succeeds spirit of joyousness and healthy contentment. The work concludes with reminiscences of the preceding themes.