Programme Guide

The fact that writing symphonies became increasingly difficult for composers after Beethoven can be established in purely quantitative terms. None of them came even close to Haydn’s 104 works in the genre, and even Beethoven’s nine, regarded with superstition by Gustav Mahler, for example, were surpassed by only a few composers, among them Dmitri Shostakovich.

As we know, Johannes Brahms was particularly plagued by doubts; he worked on his First Symphony for fourteen years before presenting it to the public. The First Piano Concerto, which was for a time planned as a symphony, and the two serenades for orchestra are also considered steps along the way to the king of instrumental genres. The fact that the composer obviously takes up a theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the finale of his C minor Symphony, which was finally premiered in 1876, can be interpreted as a sign of self-confidence. Brahms had assumed the legacy of his great predecessor and no longer had to worry about being an inferior imitator.

In this concert, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle preceded Brahms’s symphonic debut with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 92, which owes its nickname Oxford to a presumed performance in the English university town. Sir Simon once declared that he was “crazy about Haydn” and added that this music could only be performed successfully with love and respect for the composer. Sir Simon mentions other requirements of Haydn interpreters: “A wealth of ideas, curiosity, willingness to improvise. And one must be friendly! The music must have its starting point in humanity.”

Note: Another work heard at this concert was a piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which may not be shown in the Digital Concert Hall for contractual reasons.

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