Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) Symphony No. 4 in E minor Op. 98
Urtext based on the new Complete Edition (G. Henle Verlag) edited by Robert Pascall [orch] duration: 40'
2(picc).2.2.2.dble bsn. – 184.108.40.206. – timp.perc – str
The study score („Studien-Edition”) is available at G. Henle Verlag.
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The many years of in-depth research have uncovered several new aspects concerning performance and interpretation, especially regarding the Fourth. Moreover, it was also high time to examine the generally very reliable old Brahms Urtext of the Complete Edition of 1926/27. The result is an authoritative musical text that is free of transmission errors and unauthorized additions.
"Titulierte Richard Strauss die 4. Symphonie von Brahms nach deren Uraufführung als "eine Bereicherung unserer Tonkunst", so scheinen die Breitkopf-Henle-Neuausgaben ebenso bereichernd, indem sie vorbildliche Grundlagen für werkgetreue Interpretationen alter Meisterwerke liefern." (Florian Henri Besthorn, neue musikzeitung)
|1. Allegro non troppo|
|2. Andante moderato|
|3. Allegro giocoso – Poco meno presto – Tempo I|
|4. Allegro energico e passionato – Più allegro|
Two events are of some significance in the prehistory of Johannes Brahms’s Fourth Symphony op. 98. On 9 February 1874 the musicologist Philipp Spitta sent his friend the composer a copy of J. S. Bach’s Cantata No. 150 “Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich.” And in January 1882 Brahms discussed its closing chorus, a chaconne, with Hans von Bülow and other acquaintances, during which he is reported to have suggested: “What would you think, if one were to write a symphonic movement on this very theme? But it is too lumpen, too straightforward. One would have to alter it chromatically somehow.”
According to all reliable sources Brahms then composed the first and second movements of the Fourth Symphony during his summer stay in Mürzzuschlag in 1884, while the fourth movement and, following that, the third were written there in the summer of 1885. This order of movements is confirmed by the manuscript make-up and pagination of the autograph score.
Brahms announced the new work to his friends in typically self-deprecating terms: “But in this area the cherries become neither sweet nor edible.” “A few entr’actes are lying about here – such as together one customarily calls a Sinfonie.” “I’ve just strung together, as it were, another collection of polkas and waltzes.” By the beginning of October he produced an Arrangement for two pianos and four hands, which, together with Ignaz Brüll, he played on 14 October 1885 in Friedrich Ehrbar’s Piano Salon to his Viennese friends and colleagues, who reacted to the work rather with reserve and scepticism. Max Kalbeck took it upon himself to seek out Brahms on the morning after, and to advise him to cashier the Scherzo, to issue the Finale – based on Bach’s Chaconne – as a self-standing work, and in their places to compose two new movements. Brahms defended his creation and referred, amongst others, to the variation-finale of Beethoven’s Symphony.
He had already written to Franz Wüllner on 4 October: “I am about to rehearse a kind of No. 4, for which no words are suitable, in Meiningen, where one can do so very thoroughly without a concert having to follow on. I doubt whether the aforementioned No. 4 lends itself to such.” And on 16 October he wrote to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg: “Tomorrow I travel to Meiningen (where on the 25th maybe Brodsky will play my Concerto in addition). […] Whether I shall expect people to put up with the piece any further is highly doubtful. […] I am, in fact, much more diffident about my things than you think!” Thus, as it appears, he was by no means fully clear about the effect or future of his Symphony as he set out for Meiningen and the first orchestral rehearsals on 17 October.
The reception of the Symphony by the Meiningen orchestral musicians and their Court Music Director at the time, Hans von Bülow, was however quite different from that in Vienna, as Bülow related to his concert agent, Hermann Wolff: “Just back from rehearsal. No. IV gigantic, absolutely original, completely new, robustly individual. Breathes incomparable energy from a to z.“ Consequently, Brahms decided to give the première in Meiningen and thereafter to accompany Hans von Bülow and the Court Orchestra on their imminent tour with his Symphony. When Duke Georg II of Sachsen-Meiningen suggested to the composer, that the Symphony should be played twice at the première, Brahms responded with the following characterisation of the work: “This Symphony is of a completely different kind from, for example, the Third. I do not believe that it would awaken in even the most favourably-inclined listener the wish to hear it immediately over again in its full extent, to experience once more all that lamenting and tragedy, even!”; and he described the work to his friend Rudolf von Beckerath as “a new, sorrowful Symphony.”
The première of the Fourth Symphony took place on Sunday, 25 October 1885, in the Ducal Court Theatre Meiningen, as part of the Third Subscription Concert of the Ducal Court Orchestra “under the personal direction of the Master” – as the programme has it. The Court Orchestra performed the work with 51 or 52 players, including a string section of 10, 8 or 7, 5, 4, 4. Afterwards the Duke had the Symphony repeated privately (according to one contemporary report, just movements 1 and 3). During September 1885 and by the beginning of October, thus a full year after finishing the first movement, Brahms had composed four introductory measures for the Symphony, which he, without doubt, also rehearsed in Meiningen, before deciding by, at the latest, 4 November to delete this introduction. Whether the première was given with or without the introduction remains unknown. Richard Strauss, who, as second Director of the Court Orchestra, was present at the Meiningen rehearsals and première, wrote to his father about the work: “His new Symphony is a giant of a work to be sure, grand in conception and invention, brilliant in its handling of form, phrasestructure, pre-eminent in sweep and power, new, original and yet pure Brahms from A to Z; in a word, it is an enrichment of our musical art.”
During the November tour of the Court Orchestra in Germany and Holland, Brahms conducted the work nine times: in Frankfurt am Main (3 November), Essen (6 Nov.), Elberfeld (8 Nov.), Utrecht (11 Nov.), Amsterdam (13 Nov.), The Hague (14 Nov.), Crefeld (21 Nov.), Cologne (23 Nov.) and Wiesbaden (25 Nov.). Towards the end of the tour it came to a falling-out with Hans von Bülow, who thereupon resigned his post in Meiningen; the reconciliation with Brahms did not happen until January 1887.
The first performance in Vienna was given by the members of the Imperial and Royal Court Opera Orchestra on 17 January 1886 under the direction of Hans Richter. Just as also other critics, Eduard Hanslick stressed the necessity of repeated hearings: “At first encounter, it yields up nothing of its rich treasure-store of ideas, nor unveils its demure beauties: its charms are not democratic in nature. Manly strength, unbending rigour, a seriousness bordering on severity – these fundaments of all Brahms’s grander works – stand out as primary determinants of his new Symphony also. They create here their own form, their own language. Independent of any direct model, they nonetheless never deny Beethoven as their ideal.” Brahms expressed himself decisively against the critic Julius Grosser’s claim in his review for the , that the finale had been inspired by Bertel Thorwaldsen’s frieze-relief in the Villa Carlotta – a summer- residence of Duke Georg’s on Lake Como; on 5 December 1885 he wrote on this matter to his publisher, Fritz Simrock: “I content myself to express my horror at it, by now shouting aloud ‘Humph!’” By far the most negative critique of the Fourth was written by Hugo Wolf; it is couched in such scornful and sarcastic terms, that it can only be explained in the context of the partisan quarrels within Viennese musical life. When Wolf writes here of the work’s “tiny bits of melodic chaff” he demonstrates a certain reliance on Wagner’s critical pronouncements on Brahms’s 1st and 2nd Symphonies.
As Brahms’s friend Joseph Joachim was preparing the first Berlin performance of the Fourth (1 February 1886), he corresponded extensively with Brahms concerning the Symphony. From this correspondence we may see on the one hand how Brahms favoured elastic tempo, and on the other how, best of all, he expected such interpretive ideas to arise spontaneously from the musicians themselves, after they had thoroughly got to know the work. Thus he refrained from giving Joachim the metronome marks he had asked for, but noted in the autograph score, and particularly for the finale, some tempo or character- modifications, writing to Joachim about them as follows: “Such exaggerations are only really necessary as long as a work is unknown to the orchestra (or soloist). In that case I often cannot do enough pushing forward and holding back, so that passionate or calm expression is produced more or less as I want it. Once a work has got into the bloodstream, there should be no more talk of such things in my view, and the more one departs from this, the more inartistic I find the performing style.” Interestingly Brahms’s instructions agree hardly at all with Walter Blume’s account of Fritz Steinbach’s interpretation of the Fourth, even though Brahms greatly valued Steinbach as a conductor of his works. Between dress rehearsal and concert for the Berlin first performance, Joachim wrote to Brahms: “I have been really taken with the truly gripping course of the whole, with the intensity of invention, with the wonderful interweaving and growth of the themes, more so even than with the richness and beauty of particular passages, so that I almost believe the is my favourite amongst the four symphonies.”
After the pleasing experience of the first rehearsals and première at Meiningen, Brahms had no further reservations about the publication of the Symphony, but he waited until summer 1886 and the end of the series of “test performances” during which he further polished the work, before letting his publisher Simrock have the engraver’s copies. First, he delivered to him in mid-May the engraver’s copies for the Arrangement for two pianos and four hands, which then appeared in print at the end of May or beginning of June. After the performance of the Symphony at the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Cologne on 13 June 1886 by Franz Wüllner, Brahms then let the publisher have the engraver’s copies also for the orchestral version; around mid-October 1886 the orchestral score and parts were available in printed form. Already on 22 April of that year, Brahms had promised Simrock, that he himself would also make the Arrangement for one piano, four hands. This was ready by the beginning of November and was published in mid-January 1887.
Brahms’s presence at Hans Richter’s performance of the Fourth at a Gesellschaft Concert in Vienna on 7 March 1897 was his last ever attendance at a concert, at which, already seriously ill, he received the warm appreciation of the public and, at the end of the concert, in the artists’ room was greeted with the applause of the whole orchestra. Max Kalbeck noted in his diary: “It was probably the greatest ever triumph that Brahms experienced in Vienna.”
The text presented in the present edition follows that of the Complete Edition published by G. Henle (, series I, vol. 4, Munich, 2011). Further detailed information on sources and edition, as also on genesis, early performance history, reception and publication can be found in the Introduction and Critical Report of that volume. The manuscript and printed sources used for the present edition are listed in the Comments at the end of the volume. The editor and publisher thank all the libraries mentioned there for kindly granting access to these sources.
Nottingham, Spring 2012
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