Double Concerto for Violin and Cello

by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Johannes Brahms

Movements

Allegro (A minor)
Andante (D major)
Vivace non troppo (A minor → A major)

About the Composer

Brahms is one of the most famous and influential of composers, evidenced by being the third “B” in the trilogy once taught to schoolchildren (“Bach, Beethoven and Brahms”). He was astonishing in his ability to both synthesize the music tradition that had come before him, while also cutting a new path for the future. Regarded as the successor to the legacy of Beethoven (a burden Brahms deeply felt), he was also committed to creating a “New Music” style. Some musical partisans (mostly acolytes of Richard Wagner) criticized him as being too old fashioned, bur most others hailed him for his genius.

Brahms was well-known throughout Europe and America during his lifetime. He became one of the first composers to play on an audio recording when a representative of Thomas Edison visited him in Vienna in 1889. The resulting recording, available on YouTube and introduced by a voice that could be Brahms, is barely audible but intriguing nonetheless.

About this Piece

This concerto for violin and cello (hence a “double” concerto) was Brahms’ last work for orchestra. It was written for the cellist Robert Hausmann and Brahms’ long-time and closest friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The two met in 1853; Joachim was 22 and well into his career (he single-handedly popularized the Beethoven Violin Concerto); Brahms was just beginning his career. The two were close personal friends and frequent collaborators until 1880, when Joachim suspected his wife, Amalie, of having an affair with Brahms’ publisher. Joachim was notoriously jealous and Brahms, who believed Amalie to be innocent, was incapable of telling even a social lie. Brahms sided with Amalie, Joachim was devastated and their friendship crumbled.

In the summer of 1887, Brahms wrote this concerto to be, as Clara Schumann put it, “a work of reconciliation.” Brahms dedicated the concerto to Joachim, who recognized the gesture and the two men reconciled.

The concerto faced mixed reviews. Clara Schumann, normally an advocate for Brahms, wasn’t keen on it. Brahms’ friend Theodore Billroth called it “tedious and wearisome, a really senile production.” However, the piece did have one important, highly influential and unabashed champion: Joseph Joachim.

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