Johannes Brahms – Symphony n.4 mov.1 [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Jan 14, 2021

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
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Table of contents

Introduction

It took Brahms more than 20 years to write his first symphony. The second premiered 1 year after the first; the third came six years later, and his fourth and last symphony after another 2 years. All 4 symphonies are remarkably different from one another, and yet all of them are quintessentially Brahms. 

But the 4th symphony is the one that adheres the most to the classical forms combined with the aesthetics of romanticism. Brahms goes even further back in time in the last movement of the symphony, using a pre-classical form, the passacaglia, as its base.

The first movement itself is in sonata form with some variations: there is no introduction, there is no repetition of the exposition, and there are 3 thematic groups.

Scheherazade by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter (1844-1913)

Portrait of Johannes Brahms by C. Brasch (1889)

Johannes Brahms – An analysis of the 1st movement of his 4th symphony

Exposition

In case you don’t have it at hand, here’s a quick link to the score.

The first thematic idea of the exposition is characterized by a dreamy cantability; the violins play the theme in octaves, softly supported by the held sounds of the horns and the arpeggios of the violas and cellos. The woodwinds, minus the oboes, counterpoint with the same theme in thirds, 2 quarter notes apart from the violins.

Brahms - Symphony 4 movement 1 - ex.1
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Notes

Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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