Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, March 7

Brahms in Vienna

Synopsis

Of all music lovers in the world, the Viennese are notorious for the passion with which they can despise celebrities one moment, and lionize them the next. Here, for example, is one music critic’s reaction to the 1886 Viennese premiere of the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms:

“Conspicuous is the crab-like progress in the output of Brahms. It has, to be sure, never reached beyond the level of mediocrity, but such nothingness, emptiness, and hypocrisy as prevails throughout this E-minor symphony has not appeared in any previous work of Brahms in so alarming a manner. The art of composing without ideas has decidedly found in Brahms its worthiest representative. Just like the good Lord, Herr Brahms is a master at making something from nothing.”

And yet, 11 years later, on today’s date in 1897, when this same symphony was performed again in Vienna—by the very same orchestra and conductor—each movement was greeted by prolonged cheers from the audience. Not only had the Viennese come to admire the music, but also the man—and they knew their beloved Herr Brahms was dying. And so, on March 7, 1897, when the gaunt and sickly composer attended a matinee performance of his 4th symphony at the Vienna Philharmonic’s Golden Hall, the audience took the opportunity to acknowledge him and his music for the very last time.

Music Played in Today's Program

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897) Symphony No 4 in e Vienna Philharmonic; Carlos Kleiber, cond. DG 457 706

Additional Information

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