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Classical 101

A Relaxed and Sunny Second Symphony From Johannes Brahms

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Symphony No. 2 in D by Johannes Brahms arrived just a year after the long-awaited First Symphony of 1876.  After the 15 year struggle to complete that symphony, and the successful response with which it was greeted, the Second flowed out with relative ease and grace.

The critic Eduard Hanslik called it a work that "extends its warm sunshine to connoisseurs and laymen alike."

Brahms' Second Symphony was written while on a summer visit to the Austrian Alps.  There is indeed a warm lyrical quality to this symphony that contrasts with the powerfully dramatic opening of the First Symphony.  There, Brahms seemed to be wrestling with the spirit of Beethoven, so strong was the influence that great composer to all who followed in the 19th century.

The greater sense of relaxation in this work from 1877 has led some to refer to it as Brahm's "Pastoral."  Not quite fair perhaps, but it makes the point that Brahms did see himself as a continuation of of the Classical-Romantic symphonic tradition in a was that Liszt and Wagner did not.  The idyllic lyricism of Brahms' Second is occasionally tinged with Romantic melancholy, but the overall mood is cheerful, and the lively finale is unabashedly triumphant.

This evening on Symphony @ 7, I'll have this great work with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic.  And as a quick reminder, tomorrow night at 9 (Friday August 28) on WOSU-TV, PBS' GreatPerformances series will present the "Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert" from the grounds of Schoenbrun Palace with maestro Zubin Mehta leading the orchestra.