Thursday, 23 May 2013

Johannes Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2

Johannes Brahms
The second piano concerto of Johannes Brahms has long been one of my all-time favorite selections of classical music. It is a rather unusual piece, for a concerto, having four movements instead of the traditional three. And this is also strange because Brahms is known as having been a stickler for the old classical musical forms. But despite this slight strangeness, the piece is otherwise very traditional, a classic example of Brahms' musical genius. It is a masterpiece for the piano as well as for the orchestra.

One of the great things I've noticed about Brahms is that, rather than trying to be dazzlingly showy or fantastically virtuosic, he seems to focus primarily on composing something that is simply a piece of musical and aesthetic excellence. The other Romantics were very focused on expressing human emotion at a more extreme level than previous composers, or portraying glorious imagery in their music; it was overall a very vivid, emotional, poetic kind of mentality that prevailed amongst the Romantics. Brahms, however, was what I like to call "the most Baroque of the Romantics," meaning that he, though a true Romantic, also seems to have preserved in his music the Baroque focus on "absolute music," music whose value is firstly in itself simply as music, in contrast to having value in the excellence of its portrayal of some external reality. The Baroque composers, especially those like J.S. Bach, were generally masters of "absolute music," whereas the Romantics maximized the idea of "program music." Brahms, however, being perhaps one of the greatest fans of Bach who ever lived, seems to have been strongly influenced by the latter's musical worldview of "absolute music." Brahms seems to have been very concerned with simply making music which was excellent just as music. This isn't to say that there is no poetry to his music; there is. He is both a Baroque and a Romantic composer simultaneously, which is why I love his music so much. His music partakes in the best of both worlds: the high intellectual mentality of the Baroque, on the one hand, and the poetic, imaginative, emotional drive of the Romantic, on the other. The complete formation of the human soul involves a deepening of the rational powers as well as the sensible powers, the emotions and passions. This is why Brahms is so amazing to me.

Anyway. Enough of my rambling. The best way to understand Brahms or any other composer is by listening to the music. So here it is: Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, as performed by the famed pianist Maurizio Pollini. Enjoy.


  1. And Bach's BWV 1004 (solo violin partita) is probably the height baroque era music.

    I'm not sure about Brahms, although he did write a requiem and probably some other masses, but many composers are heavily influenced by Gregorian chant:

    O’Brien, J. (1881). A History of the Mass and Its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church (p. 80). New York: The Catholic Publication Society Co.:

    "The renowned Haydn was often moved to tears at listening to the children of the London charity schools sing the psalms together in unison according to the Gregorian style; and the great master of musicians and composers, Mozart, went so far as to say that he would rather be the author of the Preface and Pater Noster, according to the same style, than of anything he had ever written. These are but a few of the numerous encomiums passed upon this sacred chant by men who were so eminently qualified to constitute themselves judges."

  2. Also, interestingly, "dazzlingly showy" describes Baroque sculpture, poetry, and architecture very well, but not necessarily its music; I'd agree that'd have to wait for the Romantic era.

  3. Brahms' requiem wasn't actually a real mass, as he wasn't in fact a religious man. I posted the requiem a couple months ago here:

    And I'm not sure whether he wrote any other masses either. The Requiem is the primary piece of choral music that Brahms is known for.

    And that's an interesting point about sculpture and poetry... But thinking about it now, that phrase can apply to Baroque music too but in a different sense than I originally intended. Romantic music is dazzling and showy in the sense that it stirs a kind of excitement in the emotions... But Baroque music has its dazzling qualities too, in that I think it is more "brilliant," it has greater clarity, brightness. But it is more of an intellectual appeal than emotional...


    1. I've heard Brahms's first piano concerto, but not his second; I'm listening to it now (from this online music library).

  4. This is really beautiful. There is a movie about Schuman and Brahms and it is really good. I think that you will like it if you haven't already seen it. It is called Song of Love made in 1947.

  5. Hi, Maestro,

    Thanks for the invitation to visit your lovely blog! Your art choices are really exquisite :-)

    I'm afrid my general familiarity with Brahms is restricted to the Lullaby! However, I do have a great appreciation for George Frederick Handel, making me a musical kindred spirit of King George III! I really love "Water Music" and "Music for the Royal Fireworks", as well as everything from "The Messiah."

    I've also come to listen to quite a bit of Back recently, although I can't name any pieces off the top of my head. Also, I've been listening to some of the compositions of John Stanley, 18th century British composer.

    So, do you like Handel, Bach, or Stanley much? Also, do you like folk music at all?

    Pearl of Tyburn

    1. @Pearl of Tyburn,

      Greetings. :)

      In fact, Bach is my favorite composer, Brahms following close after, so yes I'm an enormous fan of Bach. And Handel is another one of my favorites of the Baroque period. I'm not so familiar with Stanley, but I just looked him up and am at this moment listening to one of his pieces. It's very lovely, I think I shall be listening to much more now. Classic Baroque, and I can definitely hear the English spirit of it.

      Another great English composer is Ralph Vaughan Williams - not sure if you already are familiar with him. He's a more contemporary composer, but his music is very nice, and again very English.

      As for folk music, I mostly enjoy old Celtic music, but I'm not overly familiar with it. I have dabbled in American bluegrass and old-time stuff, but only to help out my siblings and friends who play that kind of music. My tastes are generally confined to the old European styles.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

  6. After hearing Liszt's 2nd Piano Concerto for the first time, I looked up a biography on him and discovered he was a Franciscan of minor orders! You probably know Vivaldi was a priest, "Il Prete Rosso" ("The Red [Haired] Priest"). See this forum thread.

    Also, I never would've thought Respighi was so influenced by Gregorian chant! Look at this forum thread: "Respighi's love of Gregorian chant."