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Thread: Brahms Symphony No. 4

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    Senior Member linz's Avatar
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    Default Brahms Symphony No. 4

    This has some of the richest orchestration ever conceived. The themes themselves are simple, such as the opening violin theme in the first movement, but with flawless orchetral texture; proving it not Debussy or Webern the pioneer of 'timbre'(tone color), but Brahms. The horn theme in the first movement is also simple yet orginal and grandious. The very nature of academic and personal fulfillment of the traditional sound world was his highest calling. In the third movement, we are reminded of Beethoven's 7th which Wagner called "A symphony devoted to the spirit of dance." Fourth movement is general thought as one of the peaks of thematical development along dramatic lines.

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    Linz: I'm 100% with you on this. It's such a wonderful symphony in all respects: melodic, carefully crafted interwoven textures. You've said it. I reckon nothing as good has been written since, except possibly Mahler 5 and Sibelius 2/5. My preferred version used to be Klemperer, but I recently acquired Harnoncourt/BPO, which has rather better acoustics (more modern equipment).


    Topaz

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    Senior Member Edward Elgar's Avatar
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    Brahms has to be one of the best symphonists of all time. He is definatly my favourite. I would argue he was greater than Beethoven because of his melodic skill, and the way in which he uses every instrument to its full potential - especially the string section. I think he could have left the symphonic scene on a better note though. The last movements to his first and possibly third are his greatest finales. It depends on what you like really; kick-*** codas or gentle ebbing closing passages.
    When all the paint has been dried, when all the stone has been carved, music shall remain, and we shall work with what remains.

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    Brahms has always been placed in that folder 'beethovien and conservative'In his 4 symphonies his music has always to my mind evolked a well structured ,highley origanol germanic/slav themes,increasinley evokutive in emotion and stature.music that clearly influenced mahler and strauss later on.top man!

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    Strauss? You mean Richard Strauss? The "Alpine Symphony"? Not to me; Brahms would never sanction such bombast. But Bruckner, Mahler, Dvorak were definitely followers of Brahms.

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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3rdplanetsounds View Post
    Brahms has always been placed in that folder 'beethovien and conservative'In his 4 symphonies his music has always to my mind evolked a well structured ,highley origanol germanic/slav themes,increasinley evokutive in emotion and stature.music that clearly influenced mahler and strauss later on.top man!
    I'd put Brahms in the "conservative" slot. Beethoven was far from conservative. A study of his string quartet scoring should convince anyone of that, let alone his orchestration, let alone how he burst the symphonic boundaries set by Mozart & Haydn.

    Brahms was an excellent craftsman, his orchestration is competent but fairly conventional. In four symphonies he barely pushed the medium forward - even if they are very good they stuck to the formula. I certainly don't think he had Beethoven's orchestral imagination. So, yes, Brahms' 4th is a good symphony possibly let down by its last movement. Some of the qualities discussed in this thread arise from excellent performances - a good body of strings helps a lot - though his work is robust enough to tolerate poor performances and still hang together.

    I still like Carlos Kleiber's 4th that does bring out the drive in the first movement.
    Last edited by Frasier; Jun-19-2007 at 09:24.

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    Brahms was a traditionalist. His music did not break any new ground structurally or harmonically. However, he brought the traditional forms to the pinnacle of perfection. And the 4th movement of the 4th is an acknowledged masterpiece of the passacaglia form. I listened to that movement for years before realizing that it was a sequence of 30-some variations on the initial 8-note introduction. Each one proceeds from the preceding smoothly and effortlessly, and builds up to a magnificent finale.

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    Member cato's Avatar
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    Although I love just about all of Brahms work, the 4th symphony is not only his best, but I would rate it as one of the best works of all time.

    As for versions..... well, as you guys know, there are dozens and dozens of versions out there, and I have heard most of them.

    But for me, I think the best is the version with The Cleveland Orchestra, with George Szell conducting.

    Of course, I admit being biased in favor of The Cleveland Orchestra but this recording of Brahms 4th symphony, recorded back in the 1960's, on the Sony label, stands heads above the rest.

    But of course, that's just my not-so-humble opinion.
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    Junior Member JohnM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cato View Post
    Although I love just about all of Brahms work, the 4th symphony is not only his best, but I would rate it as one of the best works of all time.
    Agreed, definitely. Although I did take a while to appreciate it's complexities well enough to really enjoy it. It was worth the time and effort, though.

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    Senior Member Vesteralen's Avatar
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    All four of the Brahms symphonies share a certain mature sound that reminds me much more of one another than of the work of any other composer, but each symphony is also unique - few, if any, of the twelve movements could fit sytlistically into any of the symphonies but the one in which they are found.

    One movement that could be found, I think, in tone color and mood, though perhaps not in key, in at least three of the symphonies, is the second movement of #4. I could picture that particular musical argument working in #1 and in #3. Of course, it fits perfectly in #4 as well, so there's no need to complain.

    The sweep and momentum of the first movement is totally Brahms and completely unique to my knowledge. Nothing else in classical music moves quite like it. It features the most exciting ending in Brahms next to the first movement of the Piano Concerto #1. It's more exciting to me than the extrovert ending of the Second Symphony because it has so much more weight. This is tragedy with a capital "T", as no one else could write it.

    The second movement is "ancient" sounding. Brahms as Sophocles - the greatest tragedian who ever lived.

    The third movement has often been described as "rollicking", but it's a mature kind of rollicking - full bodied and powerful.

    I disagree that the fourth movement is a let-down. The flute solo is one of my favorite passages in the symphonic repertoire. The ending measures are the perfect pessimist's answer to Beethoven's Ninth's conclusion.

    For me, a perfect work of art, with some of the most beautiful chamber passages ever - especially for flute, oboe and horn.

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    Senior Member waldvogel's Avatar
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    There's some amazing integration of themes in Brahms' 4th. In my opinion, the foundation of the piece is the opening theme to the second movement, written in the Phrygian mode (playable on a piano's white keys from E to E'.) If you take this theme, speed it up and invert it, you get something very similar to the opening theme of the third movement. Take the Phrygian theme, invert it and cut it into fragments, and you have the opening of the first movement. Take the Phrygian theme, make an arpeggio after the first note, and you've got something like the theme in the first movement that introduces the section with the tango-like rhythm. That tango theme is very much like the Phrygian theme in a different rhythm. That slow section that makes up the trio in the third movement - the Phrygian theme with an interspersed filagree.

    The fourth movement is utterly amazing. It's written as a Passacaglia, a form that had gone extinct in the early 1700's. But the theme itself is harmonically rich, with every chord suggesting a new key. Brahms takes this harmonic pattern and manages to make a movement with tenderness (the solo flute section), terror (brass chorale blazing away), bliss (the section for oboes and horns), all with the same underlying harmonic sequence.

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    Senior Member Vesteralen's Avatar
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    Thanks, waldvogel, I was hoping someone could do that sort of analysis!

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frasier View Post
    .......Brahms' 4th is a good symphony possibly let down by its last movement. Some of the qualities discussed in this thread arise from excellent performances - a good body of strings helps a lot - though his work is robust enough to tolerate poor performances and still hang together.
    Resurrecting this old thread as I wonder if anyone feels the same as me and the poster above that the last movement lets this otherwise wonderful symphony down. Dont get me wrong, I dont dislke the last movement but its as though Brahms used all his best ideas and tunes up on the excellent first 3 movements and then tacked any old stuff on the end. As you know, I have tons of Brahms cycles and love many, but ive always thought the culmination of the 4th needed to be a stellar moment in symphonic history. Am i being harsh? What do you think?

    Last edited by Merl; Apr-25-2019 at 19:04.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    Resurrecting this old thread as I wonder if anyone feels the same as me and the poster above that the last movement lets this otherwise wonderful symphony down. Dont get me wrong, I dont dislke the last movement but its as though Brahms used all his best ideas and tunes up on the excellent first 3 movements and then tacked any old stuff on the end. As you know, I have tons of Brahms cycles and love many, but ive always thought the culmination of the 4th needed to be a stellar moment in symphonic history. Am i being harsh? What do you think?

    I feel pretty much the opposite! However I'm a huge fan of variation form, including chaconnes and passacaglias. Brahms did this one right.


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    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    I'm with KenOC. I find the 4th to be the most rewarding Brahms symphony and that final movement the best of all.

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