Brahms – Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A-Minor, Op. 102
by Max Derrickson
Johannes Brahms (b May 7, 1833 in Hamburg; d April 3, 1897 in Vienna)
Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A-Minor, Op. 102
3. Vivace non troppo
The unusual circumstances behind the writing of Brahms’ Double Concerto begin long before its premiere in October 1887. It began, really, when Brahms and the great violinist Joseph Joachim met in 1853 on tour inHanover. The two young men, Brahms at 20 and Joachim at 22, then began their lifelong friendship and collaboration. Their talents culminated in one of the greatest violin concertos in the repertoire – Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D-Major, Op. 77 of 1878 – written for and premiered by Joachim. Joachim had much to do with helping launch Brahms’ career and Brahms in turn provided more than a handful of masterpieces with which Joachim toured. Besides the great Violin Concerto, Brahms composed some stunning chamber works with Joachim in mind. It was in the violinist’s own touring ensemble, the Joachim String Quartet, in fact, where Brahms met the noted German cellist Robert Hausmann and promised him a cello concerto.
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A double concerto was in itself a less than fashionable piece to write in 1887, but then Brahms was never much concerned with what his contemporaries were doing. Wagner, Liszt and others, so highly regarded in the music world of the day, epitomized the antithesis to what Brahms was composing. His was “academic” music in the tradition of Mozart, Beethoven, and in the spirit of Bach. Given those great Masters’ concerti for multiple soloists, a double concerto for violin and cello was a notion that keenly interested Brahms. But respect for his heroes aside, Brahms’ Double Concerto also forges an intriguing, and successful, new path – in it he melds the essence of chamber music into the essence of a Romantic era symphony. It is this blending of intimacy with grandiosity that makes Brahms’ Double Concerto such a delightfully surprising masterpiece.
In its day, this Double Concerto met with a less than an enthusiastic reception, and it remains one of the lesser played of his full orchestral works for several reasons. The prospect of securing two virtuoso soloists is not an easy task – and to be sure, virtuosity is essential to making the piece work – the violinist and cellist have to be first class soloists as well as extremely adept chamber musicians. And in part, listeners are often puzzled by Brahms’ lightning switchbacks between gestures of intense gravity with moments of breathtaking tenderness, even humor. The very beginning of the Concerto illustrates this well – [. . .]