Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68
Urtext based on the new Complete Edition (G. Henle Verlag) edited by Robert Pascall [orch] duration: 45'
184.108.40.206.dble bsn. – 220.127.116.11. – timp – str
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Johannes Brahms completed his Symphony No. 1 in September and October 1876 in Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden. It was given its first performance in Karlsruhe on 4 November 1876 under the direction of Otto Dessoff. Brahms later personally conducted the work several times. After a thorough revision of the second movement, the symphony was first published by Simrock in score, parts and piano reduction in 1877. The principal source for the present edition is the first print of the score as well as the autograph transmitted for three movements and scribal copies.
„Was kann man zum Lobe dieser Neuausgabe mehr sagen, als dass sie außerordentlich leserfreundlich und in jeder Hinsicht willkommen sind. " (Das Liebhaberorchester)
|1. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Meno allegro|
|2. Andante sostenuto|
|3. Un poco allegretto e grazioso|
|4. Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – Più allegro|
The present text follows that of the Johannes Brahms Gesamtausgabe (Series I/1, Munich 1996). Further detailed information concerning sources and edition, as also genesis, early performance history, reception and publication can be found in the Introduction and Critical Report of that volume.
In his article “Neue Bahnen” (, 28 October 1853) Schumann characterised Brahms’s early piano sonatas as “veiled symphonies” and encouraged him to compose for larger forces. It was several years however, before Brahms came to a creative accommodation with the symphonic genre and particularly with its Beethovenian heritage. At interim stages in the composition of the First Piano Concerto and the First Serenade he thought of both these works as symphonies. In summer 1862 he showed Clara Schumann and Albert Dietrich the first movement of his First Symphony, as yet without its slow introduction, but he took another fourteen years to complete the work. The compositional history in these intervening years remains almost totally obscure. An important document from this period dates from 12 September 1868; on that day Brahms sent Clara Schumann birthday greetings in the form of a variant of the horn theme from the introduction to the Finale. Although he presented it with the words: “Thus blew the Alphorn today” it seems likely to have been of his own composition. Whether the Finale was at that time already conceived is not known. By the beginning of the 1870s Brahms seemed to have lost heart, and he said at that time to his friend, the conductor Hermann Levi: “I shall never write a symphony! You have no idea what it feels like to one of us, always to hear such a giant as Beethoven marching behind one”.
Brahms finally completed the work in September and October 1876 in Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden, probably under some competitive pressure with Wagner, who had just opened his theatre at Bayreuth; and unusually he fixed a date for the premiere before finishing the score. The premiere took place at Karlsruhe on 4 November 1876, in the “First Subscription Concert of the Ducal Court Orchestra, in the Great Hall of the Museum” conducted by Brahms’s friend, Otto Dessoff. The Karlsruhe orchestra stood at that time at single woodwind and brass, with 9 first and 9 second violins, 4 violas, 4 violoncelli and 4 double-basses; a total therefore of 49 players. Up to the end of January 1877 Brahms himself conducted a further five performances in Germany and Austria, and on 8 March 1877 Joseph Joachim gave the British premiere at Cambridge. From some surviving manuscript orchestral parts we know that the second movement existed at that time in an earlier version, which Brahms radically revised in May 1877 for publication, converting a five-section rondo structure into a ternary song form. Playing-times for the movements at the first two performances in Karlsruhe and Mannheim (the latter conducted by Brahms) were: first movement – 14 minutes; second movement (earlier version) – 9 minutes; third movement – 4 minutes; fourth movement – 16 minutes.
Space permits only summary mention of the most recurrent features of the Symphony’s early reception: the chamber-music background and concomitant compositional technique, the search for hidden programmatic content, and the relationship to Beethoven’s symphonies. This last issue became especially important for adherents of the “New German School”, who held that, after Beethoven’s ‘Ninth’, only music drama and symphonic poem were aesthetically justified as orchestral music.
Brahms sent engravers copy for the score and parts to Fritz Simrock on 30 May 1877, and finished his arrangement for piano four-hands in June that year at Pörtschach am Wörthersee. The Symphony appeared at the end of October 1877 in score, parts and arrangement. Brahms requested and received the substantial fee of 5000 Taler for his Symphony, including the four-hand arrangement. The manuscript sources for the score comprise: a copyist’s score of the first movement, the autograph of the second movement (published version), autographs of the third and fourth movements, and a copyist’s score of the fourth movement in the hand of a different copyist. The autographs of the second and third movements (which served as engraver’s copy), and of the fourth movement are today in the Pierpont Morgan Library New York; the copyists’s scores of the first and fourth movements (engravers copy) resurfaced only in 1992, and are now in the Brahms Institute of the Musikhochschule in Lübeck.
Nottingham, Spring 1997