Brahms – Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

by Max Derrickson

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

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Adagio non troppo
3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) – Presto ma non assai
4. Allegro con spirito


After nearly twenty years in the making, Brahms finally completed and premiered his First Symphony in 1876.  Within months, astonishingly, he composed his Second which premiered in 1877, and the two symphonies could not have been more different.  The First, like his Piano Concerto, is full of darkness and struggle, the Second is considered his “Pastoral,” full of brightness, charm and easiness.   It as though once Brahms shook the demon of filling the symphonic void left by Beethoven with his First (a task to which he never admitted fulfilling), the Second Symphony came by inspiration and relief.

The opening of the Second, Allegro non troppo, seems to reflect the peacefully rural setting of thevillageofWortherseein Carinth where Brahms spent his summers composing, with a gently rocking theme in the basses, horns and winds.     [. . .]

The finale brings us more of the exuding happiness of the whole symphony.  Quickly tempoed, brightly paced, bounding in energy, and imbued with warmth and shiningness, the Allegro con spirito is truly one of Brahms’ most joyful works.  There are many moments of wonderfully unbridled exuberance, but one particular moment stands out for a completely different reason.  In the middle of all the celebrating, the orchestra winds down.  The orchestration is stretched apart from piccolo to the lowest bass notes, and amidst pulsing tremolos in the strings, one of the main themes is slowed down to a quarter of its speed.  For a brief moment, Brahms takes a look into the magnitude of the Universe, and we are left in unexpected wonderment.  But from that magical moment the finale falls headlong toward the final bars where Brahms delivers as unfettered a joyous eruption as he ever penned.