Saturday, August 1, 2009

I'm out to steal your woman, crazy man!

Johannes Brahms is a pretty cool guy. His story started out in Hamburg, where he would play music in whorehouses as a youth to earn his family some money. He eventually moved near Robert Schumann, who he studied under and was basically the most important protege of. In the process he of course fell in love with Robert's wife, the concert pianist Clara, although there is a lot of question as to whether they ever actually had an affair, even in the many years after they outlived Robert. Brahms eventually moved to Vienna, which was at that point still the center of the musical world, and late in life ended up writing four symphonies - he didn't finish his first one until he was in his 40s.
The work today is the finale of his fourth symphony in E minor. It is a rather impressive work, because it is actually a large scale passacaglia, meaning it has a formalized presentation of the melody the whole way through. A passacaglia is a work that is built around a repeating bass melody. A much more easily identifiable passacaglia would be Pachelbel's Canon in D, because you can hear the bass line repeated throughout the entire work (making its name inaccurate). I lack recordings of Brahms's symphonies, so I don't have an extremely educated guess about which recording to pick. The recording I'm linking to is of Carlos Kleiber conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra. Youtube calls it "The best performance" so who am I to argue?

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