Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83

by Max Derrickson

Johannes Brahms   (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; Vienna, 3 April 1897)

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
I.   Allegro non troppo
II.   Allegro appassionato
III.  Andante
IV.  Allegretto grazioso
[. . .]

When Brahms finally came round to composing a second piano concerto, finishing it in 1881, he had, however, achieved fame as a composer the world over.  He had by then tackled his nemesis, a first symphony, and had gone on to write another, as well as his beloved Violin Concerto (with Joachim).  By 1881, Brahms was at particular ease with orchestral writing, and with his particular place in the world.  Yet, also by this time, some of the music establishment had grown to regard Brahms’ music as sad, intense, and stodgy.  They must not have paid any attention to his splendid Serenade No.2, or at the very least, the glorious last movement to his Second Symphony.  None-the-less, Brahms delivered this delightful concerto to the world that was anything but stodgy – fresh and charming, and in four movements rather than the traditional three. The second movement, a fiery scherzo, puzzled some of his contemporaries, to whom Brahms remarked “But the first movement is so harmless!”  In review, we can see that Brahms needed the scherzo to balance the whole work.


Yet, if he was the “upholder of the true German tradition in music,” as Schumann so hoped him to be, then clearly Brahms was here making his own personal statement by writing music of his own integrity,  [. . .]


The work opens with the grace of morning light, but goes through many stormy episodes in the first and second movements. Even the sweet third movement is not without moments of friction. But the fourth movement, without trumpets and timpani, brings forth one of the dearest and most charming statements in all of Brahms’ orchestral compositions. The whole is a masterpiece of balance, not between tragedy and triumph this time, like his angst-ridden First Piano Concerto, but between honest human struggle and happiness. When the baton comes to rest, we have heard his longest and one of his most demanding concertos, but we are left with no doubt that joy resides in the world around us.