Simon Rattle Conducts Final Symphonies of Brahms and Schumann

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic's season opener, Aug. 30, 2014. Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic's season opener, Aug. 30, 2014. (Monica Rittershaus)

Our 12th and final week of concerts from the Philharmonie ends the way it began: with a symphony by Robert Schumann and one by Johannes Brahms. And tonight, we pair their last symphonies.

After Schumann composed his first symphony in 1841, he immediately wrote a second – his Symphony in D minor. But the work was not well received. So Schumann put the music away, wrote two more symphonies, called them his Second and Third, and finally revised the D minor and numbered it his Fourth.

Conductor Simon Rattle likens that revision to wearing one’s pants “with belt and braces”: the clothing is so secured, it can’t possibly fall down. Applied to music, it means that everybody plays all the time.

When Schumann died in 1856, his younger friend Johannes Brahms “said that all the lightness and greatness and beauty of the [original] symphony is made impossible by its stifling heavy clothing,” recounts Rattle. “He's right.”

Brahms helped publish the original D minor Symphony, and for tonight’s concert, Rattle conducts that score.

Brahms wrote his fourth and final symphony in the mid 1880s. The composer was in his early 50s, living comfortably in his Vienna apartment, filled with his music and scores. He was an honored and recognized composer, performing at home and away.

At times, Brahms had had adversaries including Richard Wagner, whose music was explicitly adventurous and theatrical. Brahms seemed conservative in comparison. But Brahms moved forward by burrowing deeper into the rules of Classical music, and revolutionizing from within.


Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D minor (First Version from 1841)
Brahms: Symphony No 4 in E minor

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