Order of the Cynthian Palm

On Brahms' Symphony No. 1
by Edward Gold

Johannes BrahmsIn the first movement of the Brahms First Symphony, there is the usual repeat mark of the classical exposition. Though I tried it, I found I really disliked it greatly and few conductors actually observe it. To me, it only unnecessarily lengthens the movement and with a sudden and awkward transition back to the Allegro beginning (pace Heinrich Schenker!). I feel the same way about the Schubert Bb piano sonata even if I feel that, in most of the similar Beethoven works, the repeats are necessary and organic.

Of all Brahms' works, I think this is one of the closest to Beethoven in style but it has a greater lyricism than one usually finds in Beethoven. The first movement is a standard classical sonata form and is clearly influenced by the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with it's stress on the same major third in the C minor chord from the fifth to the third degree of the scale.

The slow movement is probably influenced by the style of the Beethoven adagio but is more complex harmonically than Beethoven usually is.

The third movement is a substitute for the scherzo ("joke") of a Beethoven Symphony but is more wistful than jocular. But like a scherzo, it has a contrasting trio which is, in this case, much more powerful than the scherzo. The written out repeat of the main section has an interpolated foreshadowing of the noble big tune of the last movement and in my slight revision of the file, I've tried to make it sound more noble.

The last movement which I was somewhat critical of in an earlier version of this page, has a lengthy introduction similar to the shorter one of the first movement starting with a minor-key suggestion of the big tune and going on to a contrasting major-key almost pastoral section. There is also another chorale-like section preceding the big tune.

The big tune itself begins the sonata form proper which has a classical exposition but there is no formal development section. In the recapitulation, most of the development takes place in the transition to the second theme and there is a lengthy two-part coda at the end. As has been mentioned many times before, the tune is obviously inspired by Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" tune but it's hardly treated the same way.

Those who argue for the first movement repeat can point to the fact that the last movement is the longest and doing that repeat can balance the whole symphony more convincingly.

Since the complete Symphony is available in four files at Classical Archives, I have replaced them with a combined file of the four movements here.

 

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