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Brahms Piano Concerto No 2
Johannes Brahms (1883-1897): Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83
I. Allegro non troppo
II. Allegro appassionato
IV. Allegretto grazioso
After an early performance of his First Piano Concerto, Brahms remarked that the “second will sound quite different.” Over twenty years later, he began a Second Piano Concerto. This was during the summer of 1878, after his first visit to Italy and at about the same time that he began growing his famous beard. He set the piece aside to work on the Violin Concerto and finally completed the Piano Concerto during May of 1881, after a second Italian trip.
“I don't mind telling you that I have written a tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo,” Brahms wrote to a friend. The composer was fond of extreme understatement, for the Second Piano Concerto is one of the longest piano concertos ever. Brahms himself called it “the long terror” and warned that it was “not for little girls.” It has four movements, he said, because the first is too “simple.”
The first performance took place in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist and Alexander Erkel conducting. Not long after, Brahms played it with Hans von Bülow and the Meiningen Court Orchestra.
Franz Liszt found the work “at first reading, a little gray in tone. I have, however, gradually come to understand it. It possesses the pregnant character of a distinguished work of art, in which thought and feeling move in noble harmony.”
“Of all existing concertos in the classical form this is the largest,” wrote Sir Donald Francis Tovey. “It is true that the first movement is shorter than either that of Beethoven's E flat Concerto (the Emperor) or that of his Violin Concerto; shorter also than that of Brahms' own first concerto. But in almost every classical concerto the first movement is as large or larger than the slow movement and finale taken together, and there is no scherzo. Here, in his B flat Concerto, Brahms has followed the first movement by a fiery, almost tragic allegro which, though anything but a joke, more than fills the place of a symphonic scherzo: the slow movement is the largest in any concerto since Beethoven's C minor (No. 3, Op.37), while the finale, with all its lightness of touch, is a rondo of the most spacious design. We thus have the three normal movements of the classical concerto at their fullest and richest, with the addition of a fourth member on the same scale.”
The work is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.
©2012 Charley Samson