Listening Assignment 12, MU111

Brahms the Conservative?

Prof. Saunders

music home

mu111 home

mu111 Assgnm. 12

Before listening to the works on these pages, read the assignment in Todd, Discovering Music,

I. Johannes Brahms, Violin Concereto in D Major, Finale

The third movement of Brahms's Violin Concerto in D Major provides an accessible introduction to Brahms's output. Listen to the complete Third Movement, using the Todd, Discovering Music text as guide.

Listen to Brahms, Violin Concerto, Third Movement :

II. Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 4, Fourth Movement, Allegro energetico e passionato Fast, energetic and passionate

The finale, or final movement, of Brahms's Fourth Symphony is one of the peaks of the nineteenth-century symphonic literature and is justly admired both for its wide expressive range and for its structural ingenuity. At bottom, it is a theme and variations: a set of twenty-nine variations on a simple, 8-note theme--a theme that doesn't consist of much more than the first 5 notes of the minor scale, with the 4th and 5th notes connected with a passing note. Since the theme is repeated constantly, often as the bass, the piece can also be heard as a basso ostinato. Finally, Brahms artfully aranges the variations to create a clear ternary or ABA form. Listen several times to the "theme," the opening 8 notes of the movement, following the contour of the music below.

Listen to Brahms, Symphony No. 4, Fourth Movement (Finale), Theme Only :

A. As you listen to the complete finale, concentrate on the variation scheme. After the opening 8 notes, each of the first 11 variations takes about 13 seconds, so even if you get lost you can get "back on" by watching the times. The first 11 variations begin at:
    0:13, 0:26, 0:39, 0:52, 1:07, 1:20, 1:33, 1:50, 2:06, 2:24, 2:40

Sometimes the 8-notes of the original theme are in the melody, sometimes in the bass, and sometimes, they're only hinted at in the harmony.

B. The next four variations are much slower, quieter, with the relationship to the opening, 8-note melody more obscured. Notice how the second of these variations turns from minor to major. The effect of the quiet brass instruments in the third of the slow variations (4:11) is also striking and beautiful:
   2:58 (melody in flute)
   3:36 (change to major melody in clarinet and oboe)
   4:11 (quiet trombones)
   4:44 (woodwinds,: similar to previous variation).

A'. The final 15 variations return to the opening tempo, beginning with a recall of the opening at 5:20. Many of these variations recall variations from the opening part of the piece, giving the work the feel of a very free ABA form, superimposed on the overall variation form. The movement gradully builds to a huge climax in the coda. Enjoy!

Listen to Brahms, Symphony No. 4, Fourth Movement (Finale, complete) :

End of Assignment 12

Return to top

Go to MU111 home page