Brahms: Symphony No. 1

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Brahms: Symphony No. 1 48:30 $11.98
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# Track Title Length Format Sample Rate Price
1 Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68: I. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro 14:43 44.1/16 Album only
2 Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68: II. Andante sostenuto 9:54 44.1/16 Album only
3 Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68: III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso 4:49 44.1/16 Album only
4 Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68: IV. Adagio - Piu andante - Allegro non troppo ma con brio - Piu a 19:04 44.1/16 Album only

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Recorded live April 4, 2006, Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Despite eventually composing some of the greatest symphonies, overtures, and concertos of his century, Brahms was slow to begin writing orchestral music. He faced a double burden in particular producing a first symphony. Brahms shared a dilemma with nearly all Romantic composers after Beethoven: how to write a symphony following the master’s Ninth. Schubert allegedly once remarked to a friend, “Secretly, in my heart of hearts, I still hope to be able to make something out of myself, but who can do anything after Beethoven?” In a similar vein, Brahms famously said to the conductor Hermann Levi: “You don’t know what it is like to walk in the footsteps of a giant.” But while Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and other early Romantics struggled with the legacy of Beethoven’s symphonies, Brahms, a generation younger, had to face in addition unusually weighty expectations for his development. Great Expectations This second burden was partially created by Robert Schumann, whom the 20-year-old Brahms first met through Joseph Joachim in 1853. The older composer’s mental health was declining and early the next year he attempted suicide by throwing himself in the Rhine River. He would spend his remaining two years in a sanatorium, where Brahms visited regularly. But prior to these sad events, Robert and Clara Schumann took the young composer into their home and hearts. Robert, who had been a brilliant and powerful music critic years before, came out of journalistic retirement and submitted a brief review of Brahms’s first publications to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the prominent music periodical he had helped start nearly 20 years earlier. Schumann’s article, “Neue Bahnen” (New Paths), hailed Brahms as the musical messiah the artistic world had been awaiting since Beethoven’s death. It was a dream review, especially from the pen of one of the leading critics and composers of the era, but also one that created extraordinary expectations that put severe pressure on the young Brahms. Schumann in fact based his praise on relatively few works, mainly ones for piano. The piano sonatas already were “like disguised symphonies,” Schumann wrote, and gave hope for greater things to come. So while Brahms’s early piano and chamber music earned the admiration of musicians, critics, and audiences alike, everyone wondered when he would turn to what really mattered: symphonies and operas. Of course, he never did write an opera, and his First Symphony took more than another 20 years to arrive. The Path to a First Symphony Brahms’s path to creating a symphony worthy of Beethoven’s heritage was littered with musical materials that he diverted to other projects, as well as to what might be considered other “symphonies in disguise.” The mighty orchestral opening of his First Piano Concerto in D minor was at one time intended for a symphony, as were parts of A German Requiem. The closest Brahms got in his 20s to composing an actual symphony were two orchestral serenades published in 1860. (The First Serenade, in D major, Op. 11, for a time even bore the title “Symphony-Serenade.”) His triumph with the Variations on a Theme by Haydn in 1873 may have given him eve n more confidence in his orchestral prowess and also encouragement to stick with a classicizing aesthetic agenda very much in contrast to the programmatic works of Berlioz, Liszt, and other “progressive” figures. Although parts of the First Symphony may date back to the 1850s, the opening movement (without the slow introduction) was apparently written around 1862, when Clara Schumann informed Joachim that Brahms had sent it to her. Some dozen years followed before he picked up the thread, revising that move ment and composing the others. Otto Dessoff conducted the premiere in provincial Karlsruhe (gaining confidence, Brahms’s next two symphonies would debut in Vienna). The early responses there and in larger cities were generally admiring, mixed with some puzzlement over the work’s austerity. The prominent conductor Hans von Bülow later hailed the Symphony as “The Tenth,” implying that Brahms had indeed fulfilled the prophesy Schumann had made so many years before. Eduard Hanslick, the formidable Viennese critic who was Brahms’s advocate and Wagner’s nemesis, commented on this legacy as well: “Seldom, if ever, has the entire musical world awaited a composer’s first symphony with such tense anticipation—testimony that the unusual was expected of Brahms in this supreme and ultimately difficult form. … If I say that no composer has come so close to the style of late Beethoven as Brahms has in this finale, I don’t mean it as a paradoxical pronouncement, but rather as a simple statement of indisputable fact.” And indeed that finale seems almost to “correct” the path Beethoven had chosen in his Ninth Symphony, where, not long after presenting a beautiful lyric string melody, he added voices and the words to Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” For Wagner, this had pointed to the “music of the future” (which is to say, his own operas). But Brahms, after introducing his own similar beautiful lyric string melody, rejected voices and words. His Symphony remains in the realm of the purely instrumental. A Closer Look The imposing Un poco sostenuto introduction sets the tone for the seriousness of the Symphony, followed by an Allegro rich in thematic material and dense in its scoring and motivic unfolding. (One of the many motives alludes to the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Sympho ny, also in C minor.) The second movement Andante sostenuto is in an A-B-A form, with an agitated middle section, framed by the outer parts that feature the oboe and in the reprise a lyrical solo for the violin. As with most of Brahms’s third movements, the Un poco allegretto e grazioso is a brief interlude. The finale, like the first movement, opens with a slow introduction, here in two sections. An Adagio (the very beginning of which presents the main string theme of the movement in ultra slow motion and in a very high register) accelerates and grows increasingly turbulent—it is not quite clear where this all is heading until a dramatic timpani roll is sounded and music shifts from minor to major. As if the sun were breaking through threatening clouds, a majestic horn call sounds forth (Più andante). Brahms had written this theme on a postcard he sent to Clara years before and it may have carried some personal meaning between them. A brass chorale slow and at a moderate dynamic level—follows that will be transformed into a thrilling and triumphant apotheosis at the end of the movement. After all this introductory material—and at about the same point as in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth—the tempo changes to Allegro non troppo, ma con brio and we hear the hymn- like tune so much like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The similarity was immediately remarked upon by listeners and critics, to which Brahms allegedly replied “Any jackass can see that.” What posterity has been able to see even better is how brilliantly Brahms revitalized the genre of the symphony. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2006. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST As associate conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Rossen Milanov leads subscription, family, educational, and holiday concerts. In March 2006, he was named artistic director of The Philadelphia Orchestra at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts. He also serves as music director of both the Haddonfield Symphony in New Jersey and the New Symphony Orchestra in his native city of Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2003 he was named chief conductor of the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony, also in Sofia. During the 2005-06 season, Mr. Milanov appears with the Honolulu and Syracuse symphonies, the Teatro Colón Buenos Aires, the National Orchestra of Mexico, and the National Orchestra of Colombia. He also makes his debut at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw with the Slovenia National Radio and Television Orchestra and returns to the Curtis Institute to conduct a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Next season he will conduct the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague, the Seoul Philharmonic, the Lucerne Symphony, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Auckland Philharmonic, the Virginia Symphony, and the Honolulu Symphony. Mr. Milanov has led concerts and tours with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the New World Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Omaha Symphony, the Duluth-Superior Symphony, the Juilliard Opera Center, and the Curtis Opera Theater. He was music director of the Chicago Youth Symphony from 1997 to 2001, and has participated in numerous summer festivals, including Tanglewood and the Interlochen Arts Festival. He has recorded works by the Russian composer Alla Pavlova with the Moscow Philharmonic for Naxos. Mr. Milanov retains a close association with his native city of Sofia in Bulgaria. As music director of the New Symphony Orchestra, the first privately funded orchestra in Eastern Europe, he has commissioned and premiered many new works, introduced American music to Bulgarian audiences, and made several recordings. Mr. Milanov founded the Sofia-Mt. Vitosha International Conducting Institute, a summer festival dedicated to the training of young aspiring conductors. He has received the Award for Extraordinary Contribution to Bulgarian Culture, awarded by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, and in 2005 he was chosen as Bulgaria’s Musician of the Year. Mr. Milanov studied conducting at the Juilliard School (recipient of the Bruno Walter Memorial Scholarship), the Curtis Institute of Music, Duquesne University, and the Bulgarian National Academy of Music. 4/2006 PRODUCTION CREDITS Production: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Milanov Bio Photo: Anthony Sinagoga