Opening Concert

Saturday, October 31, 1998 - 8:00 p.m.
Jim Rouse Theatre

Pieces

Hector Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Johannes Brahms - Academic Festival Overture
Johannes Brahms - Concerto for Violin and Cello
Program Notes

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)

DOUBLE CONCERTO in A Minor for Violin and Cello, Op. 102

COMPOSED: 1887

PREMIERED: Cologne, Germany, 1887

I: Allegro
II: Andante
III: Vivace non troppo

The great violinist Joseph Joachim and his wife, mezzo-soprano Amalie, were the Kanye and Kim of respectable nineteenth-century Austria; they named one of their six children Johannes, after their close friend Johannes Brahms. In 1884, however, Vienna was rocked by the huge scandal of their divorce; Joachim accused Amalie of an affair with his publisher. In court, Amalie produced a letter from Brahms defending her; after he won, Joachim declared that Brahms was dead to him, forever. Three years later, Brahms used their mutual friend, the cellist Robert Hausmann, as a go-between to mend the fence; the result was the Double Concerto. All three men performed at the very tense premiere.

Brahms largely bases his concerto on permutations of Joachim’s personal musical signature F-A-E, which he said stood for “frei aber einsam” – “free but lonely” (the irony is startling in the context); it’s the basis for the opening of the work. The opening is also – an in-joke with Joachim – a paraphrase of the opening of Viotti’s A minor concerto, a favorite of both Brahms and Joachim. Schumann had used Joachim’s motif in his Cello Concerto, also written for Joachim. After the initial announcement of Joachim’s slogan, the first movement begins with a rather glum cello solo that ushers in a series of exchanges with the violin – sometimes together, sometimes in obvious competition, sometimes (slightly – it’s Brahms) jocular. It is hard not to imagine two friends not quite getting on.

The slow movement turns the Joachim motif inside out and into the major (A-F#-E), clearly picked out in alternating notes in the soaring running eighth-note melody played by the two soloists in octaves. Clara Schumann called the concerto “reconciliation music,” probably with this movement in mind. The finale has Brahms hinting at the Gypsy music that he and Joachim had helped to popularize. The motif is still free and lonely, but it dances to cheer itself up in a frenzy of virtuosity.

About the Concert

Conducted by Catherine Ferguson.

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