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The Unabashed Melodies of Brahms

MSO performs his first and final symphonies

May. 21, 2013
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Brahms may not have been the most enterprising of composers. The first of his four symphonies was 20 years in the making, a gestation period culminating in an initial performance in 1876 when the composer was 44 years old. The result of his slow labor was a magnificent series of symphonic works, thrilling in their Romantic bravura and unequaled until the time of Mahler. Yet Brahms displays none of the anxiety, the “sturm und drang” of Mahler or Beethoven, although comparisons are still made between the finale in Beethoven’s Ninth to that of Brahms’ First.

The unabashed melodiousness of Brahms is without apology. His first symphony remains one of the true glories of the Romantic Era, rich in sonorous harmonics and beautiful melodies, but firmly grounded in the formality of the middle-19th-century German Romantic tradition. Like all of Brahms’ symphonic works, little is left to chance or idle whimsy. Yet for all its structural traditionalism, Brahms’ first is one of the most inspiring works to emerge from the period, exalting in a magnificent final movement with its beautifully melodic introductory horn passage culminating in an often-used motif which glows an affirmation of the basic goodness of human nature.

The fourth symphony stands apart, closing the arc of Brahms’ symphonic output with an ominous finale. Neither pessimistic nor foreboding, it offers a reflective presentiment that the days of wine and roses are over, and we must settle for the greater solemnity of approaching winter.

Edo de Waart conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and No. 5 at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, May 24; 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 25; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 26 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall.


Classical Happening

Present Music has always focused on multi-media and community involvement. The contemporary ensemble concludes its 31st season with “Multitude,” a concert involving fashion, dance, film projection, art installations and an edible wall of cupcakes. Yes, there is also music, including pieces by Steve Reich and David Lang and a world premiere by Sean Friar. The event takes place on Friday, May 24, at 6:30 p.m. in the Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. Fourth St.


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