Day 313: Piano Concerto No. 1

BrahmsCD7Well, this certainly begins with a dramatic flair.

It almost sounds like the soundtrack to a 1940s hardboiled detective movie – you know, like when the antagonist pulls a gun or a knife on the good guy (if there really are any good guys in a hardboiled detective movie; they’re all a bit shaded gray).

It takes four minutes before the titular piano appears in this compositions. Too long, in my opinion. I love the sound of Classical piano. So I want the ivories to start tickling as early as possible in a piano concerto.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, is a work for piano and orchestra composed by Johannes Brahms in 1858. The composer gave the work’s public debut in Hanover, Germany, the following year.

Brahms worked on the composition for some years, as was the case with many of his works. After a prolonged gestation period, it was first performed on January 22, 1859, in Hanover, Germany, when Brahms was just 25 years old. Five days later, at Leipzig, an unenthusiastic audience hissed at the concerto, while critics savaged it, labelling it “perfectly unorthodox, banal and horrid”. In a letter to his close personal friend, the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim, Brahms stated, “I am only experimenting and feeling my way”, adding sadly, “all the same, the hissing was rather too much.”

The work reflects Brahms’ effort to combine the piano with the orchestra as equal partners in a symphonic-scale structure, in emulation of the classical concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. It thus differs from earlier Romantic concertos, where the orchestra effectively accompanied the pianist. Even for the young Brahms, the concerto-as-showpiece had little appeal.

Brahams was 25 when he composed his first piano concerto. Even though he was hissed at its debut, I will not hesitate to proclaim that I could not have composed this music at any age, let alone 25. So I would not have been among those doing the hissing.

Still, I can say this as well: For a piano concerto, this seems unusually lumbering. Sort of top heavy. And kind of ponderous. Especially Movement II (“Adagio”).

Maybe Brahms composed this before he really knew who he was, had found his own voice, in the Classical music world.

The musicians on Brahms CD 7 are:

Daniel Barenboim piano
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir John Barbirolli conductor