If someone were to ask me about my favorite Beethoven moment, I’d have a surprise for them. It doesn’t show up in any piece of music by the composer himself. It’s by Brahms.
Brahms expended some 20 years of blood, sweat and tears before he finally put the finishing touches on his very first symphony.
His friend Robert Schumann played a big role in what took so long. Schumann, who was a respected music critic of the day as well as a composer, printed an article about the young Johannes Brahms, praising him as the new messiah of the German musical tradition. The pressure was on.
The inexperienced 20-year-old Brahms was terrified of carrying on that mantle. He was acutely aware he was following in the brilliant symphonic tradition of his earlier compatriot Beethoven. He lamented, "You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven."
Brahms finally exorcised some of his demons when he produced his towering Symphony No. 1. But I can't help but think that he added his homage to Beethoven to it.
About halfway through the first movement, you'll hear the famous rhythmic "ta ta ta daaah" motif which opens Beethoven's Symphony No 5. It gets passed along through various instruments of the orchestra and continues quietly in the tympani strokes all the way to the end. Check out these audio for some examples:
I think Beethoven would've gotten it.
If your favorite Beethoven moment is in any of the nine actual Beethoven symphonies, CPR Classical will feature it as part of our New Year's Even Beethoven Bash from 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, Dec. 31. Listen to the broadcast or stream it online at cprclassical.org.