Album of the Day — August 24

Johannes Brahms — Symphony №3 in F Major

Johannes Brahms
Symphony №3 in F Major

Johannes Brahms had the incredible talent of Ludwig Beethoven and the misfortune of having to follow the man. The expectation and hype were that Brahms would create something on par with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Brahms was hyped to such a degree that it took him 21 years to come up with his first symphony, in 1876.

Written almost six years after his second symphony and premiered in December of 1883 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. During the intervening years Brahms wrote some of his best work:

  • Violin Concerto
  • Tragic Overture
  • Academic Festival Overture
  • Piano Concerto №2

Symphony №3 in F Major has four movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Andante
  3. Poco allegretto
  4. Allegro — Un poco sostenuto

And a run time of +/- 30–40 minutes, making it the shortest of Brahms’s work.

Brahms was a traditionalist composer. He maintained a classical sense of form and order in his work. Many of his contemporaries embraced the opulent “New German programme music” — which is “instrumental art music that attempts to render an extra-musical narrative musically.”

“Free but Happy”

These three notes, or musical motto, F–A♭–F, had significance for Brahms.

His friend, Joseph Joachim, had taken up a personal philosophy “Free, but lonely.” Which translated in German is “Frei aber einsam” or F-A-E. Conversely, Brahms, at the time of writing Symphony №3 in F Major, was a fifty-year-old bachelor who embraced a similar idea to his friends.

The difference being that Brahms chose “Free but happy.” Which translated to German is “Frei aber froh” or F-A-F.

Right out of the gate, the F-A-F motto is the melody of the first three measures and then becomes the bass line under the central theme in the next three. This musical motto continues, either boldly or disguised, as the melody or accompaniment throughout the movement.

Oh, those witty and whacky composers!

However “happy” Brahms may have considered himself at the time of this composition, it has been used in some pretty dark and popular projects:

  • the 1946 film noir Undercurrent
  • the 1952 film tragedy Angel Face
  • the 1987 film mystery The Rosary Murders
  • the 2003 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs II
  • the 1999 album Supernatural by Carlos Santana features the third-movement theme in his song “Love of My Life,” (Ft. Dave Matthews)
  • the 2005 computer game Civilization IV
  • the 2013 drama Kill Your Darlings

Although opinions differ, there is consensus that ONE of the best recordings of Brahms Symphony №3 In F Major was from 1983 by Wiener Philharmoniker & Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic on the Deutsche Grammophone label.

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