Johannes Brahms Symphony no. 1 in C minor op. 68 Johannes Brahms Symphony no. 4 in E minor op. 98 Conductor Daniel Harding
The MCO is well acquainted with the symphonies of Johannes Brahms; it has played all four of them many times in successful concerts. Now, the orchestra and its Principal Conductor Daniel Harding are on tour in Europe and Asia with the entire symphonic cycle for the first time.
Johannes Brahms and the musicians of the MCO share a very central point of interest: chamber music. Brahms the pianist was a passionate chamber musician, and this genre occupies a large part of his work as a composer. But that is not all: at their core, Brahms’ orchestral pieces are also chamber music. Nothing is incidental, nothing dispensable. Every individual voice counts, and the themes and motives are most intimately interwoven. Likewise with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, whose very name affirms this. Each member of the MCO lives the chamber music style of playing – listening to and reacting to one another, taking responsibility and bringing their own creativity into play – even when great symphonies are on the program.
Symphony No. 1 „I will never compose a symphony! You have no notion of how it discourages me, whenever I here this giant marching behind me“, complained Brahms in a letter to his friend, the conductor Hermann Levi. The composer, acutely self-critical, found the nine symphonies of Beethoven to be an overwhelming model. Only in his forty-third year did Brahms succeed – after many aborted attempts and almost fifteen years of work – in finishing his first symphony. It is indeed stamped with Beethoven’s influence, or rather, with the mark of Brahms’ conflicted position on Beethoven. Not only does this appear in the orchestral instrumentation, in the chronological dimensions, and in the choice of one of Beethoven’s most oft-used keys, C-Minor, but also in thematic allusions. As in Beethoven’s C-Minor Symphony (No. 5), Brahms’ First Symphony follows the idea, „From darkness into the light.“ The world premiere in Karlsruhe was a success, and only a few weeks later the work was being celebrated in Vienna.
Symphony No. 4 The opening performance of the fourth symphony, in E-minor, Brahms conducted himself. Here he achieved even more powerfully than in the previous symphonies a dense network of related motives and themes. Elisabet von Herzogenberg, a close friend of Brahms who was intimately knowledgeable about his music, wrote to the composer: „So it is for me with this piece, that the deeper I look into it, the more deeply the work engrosses me, the more stars emerge from this dusky light that first concealed the glowing spots, the more single joys I have, both expected and surprising, and that much clearer becomes the overarching line, which turns the multiplicity into unity. (...) and so much is contained inside, that one exults almost as a discoverer and naturalist, when one perceives all the tricks of Your creation!“