Movement-in-a-Minute, Part II: More Pivotal Moments in Brahms 3

by Victoria Aschheim

In conductor Leon Botstein's volume, The Compleat Brahms, Professor Karen Painter (formerly of Harvard's Music Department) describes the opening cello theme of movement three of Brahms's Third Symphony, which "aspires with ever new extensions of its basic materials." Indeed aspiration has been a key word for HRO this concert cycle, as Maestro Federico Cortese paves his aspirations for us as an ensemble. Also, we the musicians have aspired to endow the Brahms with a momentous depth of sound, yet delicate dynamics and Mozartian buoyancy of articulation and phrasing, Chopin's First Piano Concerto with characteristic Italianate, bel canto sentiment, yet accompanimental precision, and the contemporary American work of Leon Kirchner, Music for Orchestra, No. 2, with romantic expressivity yet motoric rhythmic energy and a keen, intimate, chamber music-like awareness of our fellow musicians.Before meeting movements three and four of Brahms 3, let me take an interlude of introduction for Leon Kirchner.Leon Kirchner, who taught for many years at Harvard, was part of the great intellectual power of the Boston area. His music has been championed by Yo-Yo Ma, who has toured with and recorded Kirchner's Music for Cello and Orchestra and Triptych. Leon Kirchner was a gifted pianist and conductor, but first a foremost a composer. A member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was honored twice by the New York Music Critics Circle and received the Naumburg Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his String Quartet No. 3. Kirchner received many commissions including from the New York Philharmonic and our own Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was composer-in-residence at the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Aldeburgh Music Festival, and at many others.Movement ThreeNow returning to the Brahms... In the excerpt below, Maestro Cortese advises the strings in voicing their expression of the third movement's main theme, before the woodwinds wistfully expand the theme's melodic reach. [] Movement FourOf movement four, Professor Painter writes: "Unlike the sustained rejoicing of Beethoven’s finales, which by the late nineteenth century had become the norm, Brahms’s Finale achieves a symphonic victory as the result of a process. Each segment of the sonata-form scheme in the fourth movement thwarts grand gestures of closure. Brahms turns on its head what nineteenth-century critics often described as a gendered opposition in the exposition themes – an assertive ‘masculine’ first theme followed by a gentle, lyrical ‘feminine’ second theme…For the discerning ear, the unity offered by the Finale is more satisfying in its completion of procedures left undone in earlier movements….Brahms anticipates the subjective, evanescent nature of ‘spiritual struggle’ and ‘true victory’ that Gustav Mahler articulated to Richard Strass in justifying the bold course of symphonic writing he began in the 1880s, prefiguring the developments of the next century." Come and experience all the emotional and intellectual delights of Brahms at Sanders Theatre tonight at 8pm!In this excerpt from the middle of movement four, the serpentine, scalar opening theme gradually broadens into the movement's eventual, majestic climax (I didn't give it away in the clip - come to the concert to hear it!) heralded first by the entrance of the trumpets, then by the low brass and timpani. [] Photos and video by Victoria Aschheim

[Caption: Sanders Theatre statues watch over HRO]

[Caption: Maestro Cortese's score]

[Caption: Silver-...]

[Caption: ...and gold-toned percussion instruments for Kirchner's Music for Orchestra No. 2]

[Caption: HRO horns, Rebecca Gruskin '11 and Emily Eckart '12]

[Caption: HRO Concerto Competition Winner, Kenric Tam '12, rehearsing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1]