Johannes Brahms’ path to the symphony was arduous and took a circuitous route. Unsatisfied with his work on a symphony, he discarded it, instead incorporating material from it into his First Piano Concert which premiered in Hanover in 1859. Two years later the composer titled his orchestral work composed of a number of movements Serenade op. 11, out of fear of comparison with one of the greatest symphonists of all time. “Oh God, if one dares to write symphonies after Beethoven, they must be absolutely different!”, Brahms exclaimed. It was only with the overwhelming success of his First Symphony, premiered in November 1876, that Brahms overcame his “symphony scruples” – as Robert Schumann once called them. Just six months later he began working on his Second Symphony. And it came easy to him: after having spent no less than twelve years brooding over his contemplative First Sym-phony, Brahms composed his distinctly cheerful Second within months. Brahms explained the predominantly pastoral character of the Second Symphony with reference to the idyllic at-mosphere he encountered working at the Wörthersee: “so many melodies flying around here that you must be careful not to tread on any...”
Sir Simon Rattle appears by kind permission of EMI Classics.