The Compleat BRAHMS
A Guide to the Musical Works of Johannes Brahms

By LEON BOTSTEIN (Editor(s))

W.W. Norton & Company

Copyright © 1999 Leon Botstein. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-393-04708-3

Chapter One


Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Opus 11

Composed 1857-60; published 1860

Scoring: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Movements: 1. Allegro molto; 2. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo. Trio: Poco più moto; 3. Adagio non troppo; 4. Menuetto I, Menuetto II; 5. Scherzo: Allegro; 6. Rondo: Allegro

    The two Serenades Opp. 11 and 16 are closely associated withBrahms's Detmold period (1857-60), when he taught and played pianoand had charge of the court choir during three winter seasons. His biographerMax Kalbeck and others have attributed the markedly Classicalstylistic features (in great contrast to the preceding, first orchestral work,the Piano Concerto in D Minor, Op. 15) to his study of the orchestralscores of Haydn and the wind serenades of Mozart, and to the fine playingof the winds of the court orchestra. However, the origin of Op. 11 suggestsa broader provenance. The work was first composed as chambermusic, apparently for wind and strings, either first as an octet (as notedby Brahms's Detmold colleague Karl Bargheer) or as a nonet for horn,flute, two clarinets, bassoon, and strings (which Kalbeck notes as its scoringwhen first performed). This semiorchestral format, taken with thenumber of movements, rather suggests such works as Beethoven's Septetand Schubert's Octet, both for similar ensembles, though Brahms'sprominent use of the horn solo might be attributed to memories of theeighteenth-century serenade and symphony. The score, from whichJoseph Joachim first conducted on March 28, 1859, at a special Philharmonicconcert in the Wörmerscher Saal in Hamburg, "for small orchestra"(with augmented strings) has not survived, and neither have theparts; recent performances and recordings have been of "reconstructed"versions.

    From its first reference, in the summer of 1858, the Serenade in Dseems to have been known as a four-movement work, comprising thepresent outer movements, an Andante (apparently the present Adagionon troppo) and a "Trio," which was probably the first Minuet, in triplemeter and three parts. In December followed "two new scherzos and aminuet" to make the six-movement work. But Brahms had long haddoubts about the scoring—and Joachim had already pointed out theawkwardness of the violin writing in the sixth movement—eventuallyconcluding that the work was of symphonic character. On December 8,1859, Brahms asked Joachim to send music paper in full score for himto rework the Serenade as a "symphony," commenting that the workwas not right, but a "hybrid." By this time, Joachim had come to knowit as a "symphony serenade," and the manuscript temporarily bore thistitle, but it was later deleted. The work was first performed in thefinal version by Joachim conducting the court orchestra of Hanover onMarch 3, 1860. The score was sent to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtelin Leipzig on July 14, 1860 (now with the opus number 11 instead of 18),and published by the firm in December 1860 as Serenade in D Major "forfull orchestra" with parts (to distinguish it from the Serenade in A "forsmall orchestra," published by Simrock in November 1860), and also ina four-hand arrangement by Brahms, which had been completed in May1859.

    Though Brahms remained attached to the earlier version of the work,Joachim was right in recognizing its symphonic character. Its powerfultuttis and broad ideas demand a full orchestra for achieving a full effect.But the title "Serenade" is still justified by the preponderance of typicallyoutdoor ideas associated with the horn, clarinet, and flute solos,and the often dancelike character of the music, which even extends tothe developmental passages. In providing two scherzos and paired minuets(the latter effectively functioning as a transition from slow movementto second scherzo), Brahms allies the multi-movement characterof the Classical serenade to a range of styles that display features suggestiveof Haydn, early Beethoven, and Schubert, while always suffusedwith his characteristic warmth of feeling, to make a very individualwhole—for this work is no pastiche. Though its symphonic significancewas short-lived (Brahms produced a genuine symphonic first movement,which begins like the Allegro of the First Symphony, by 1862),this Serenade laid a crucial foundation for the composer's mature stylein its integrated yet idiomatic use of the orchestra, free of pianisticthinking.

    In the chamber version, the wind instruments were used very idiomatically,tied stylistically to traditional associations. Thus, the useof duetting clarinets in sixths over an articulated pedal in the bassoonin Menuetto I; the bold solo horn theme in hunting style at the beginningof the work, and likewise that in the second Scherzo and its Trio;the scherzo theme and its counterpointing bass have been relatedrespectively to the Scherzo in Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 and theFinale of Haydn's Symphony No. 104 (both also in D major).The revised version of the work hardly extends the characterization of theideas at all, leading themes being given throughout to the flute, clarinets,horn, and bassoon, the additional instruments used rather tobalance the full string group in the tuttis. A particular feature takenfrom the original in the first movement and especially in the third isthe extensive woodwind writing in the codas, recalling the parallelpoint in the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, amovement already strongly hinted at in the string figuration in thetransition passage to the second theme. Yet in formal terms, Brahmsoverweighed the serenade genre with the concentration of his ideasand their working. The first movement is longer than those of any ofthe symphonies: 574 measures without the repeat of the lengthy exposition,which has much repetition in the first thematic group anda weighty closing group. The ternary-form third movement is alsosymphonic in breadth, with a leisurely transition to the central sectionand a striking false reprise of the exposition, beginning in F#major before the predictable tonic, B[flat]. The sonata-rondo Finale is alsoexpansive and plays a structural role in completing the whole, with arecomposed recapitulation that reverses the themes and leads to areflective coda before the tutti conclusion. Even one of the minuetsdisplays developmental features. Menuetto II functions not as a triocontrast but as a wistful commentary on the closing phrase of itscompanion, substituting minor for major and strings for winds.Only one movement is driven by a really Brahmsian idea: the firstScherzo has a mysterious "unison" idea in the lower strings which realizesits contrapuntal implications when imitation occurs in the course ofa lengthy exposition, made more effective by the total contrast of a swingingtrio at a quicker tempo in the submediant major, B[flat]. The work wasnot easily accepted in early performances; features to which modern listenersare accustomed—cross rhythms, intricate part-writing, subtletiesof blend and balance—presented entirely new challenges to players atthe time.

Michael Musgrave

Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Opus 16

Composed 1858-60; published 1860

Scoring: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, violas, cellos, basses

Movements: 1. Allegro moderato; 2. Scherzo: Vivace; 3. Adagio non troppo; 4. Quasi Menuetto; 5. Rondo: Allegro

    Unlike its predecessor, the Serenade in D, the Serenade in A was apparentlyconceived in its finished version from the start, and was completedmore quickly. Its scoring is much closer to that of the Mozarteanserenade in its use of a full wind complement of doubled clarinets, flutes,horns, and bassoons. Its twelve independent wind and brass parts createa self-sufficient ensemble to which strings are added for contrast andcounterpoint rather than essential support. However, Brahms gives anentirely original dimension to the concept by the use of a string bodywithout violins, thereby adding a mellow quality to the whole; the thematiclead is invariably given to the winds, with the violas and cellosoften doubled in thematic response rather than statement. Additionally,Brahms includes a piccolo in the Finale to contribute to a celebratoryquality that almost suggests an outdoor band—perhaps an allusion to theDetmold wind players.

    Clara Schumann was most intimate to the origins of this serenade.Brahms sent her the first movement in December 1858. She found theideas comparable to those of the First Serenade but the "working outfar more successful" and asked if there were any more movements.Despite her requests, he did not reveal more until September 10, 1859,sending the first, third, and fourth movements to her for her birthday,September 13, and requesting especially her reaction to the Adagio,to find whether "it is worth all the trouble I have taken with it."Her lengthy reply is very enthusiastic, and she particularly notes theTrio and the Adagio, writing of the intense pleasure given by the latterthat it is "as if I were to gaze at each filament of a wondrous flower. Itis most beautiful." She received the complete score on November 9, andthe work was first performed on February 10, 1860, in Hamburg at aprivate Philharmonic concert, conducted by Brahms. Though he offeredit to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel at the same time that he sentits companion, it was not accepted (a sign of its less popular effect); itwas, however, published at almost the same time as the Serenade in D(November 1860) by Simrock of Bonn, later his main publisher, withthe subtitle "for small orchestra" since it lacks trumpets and timpani aswell as violins. The piano four-hand version made by Brahms appearedat the same time. Brahms was exceptionally pleased with the result, commentingwhen he made the arrangement, "I have seldom written musicwith greater delight. It seemed to sound so beautiful that I was overjoyed,"though adding with typical irony, "My pleasure was not increasedby the knowledge that I was the composer." However, he later made numerousamendments to the markings and a completely revised edition,"New, revised by the Author," on which subsequent editions are based,appeared in 1875 or 1876. For performance around this time, Brahms indicateda desired performing body of eight violas, six cellos, and fourbasses.

    The second Serenade is more formally balanced and stylistically integratedthan its predecessor and anticipates even more closely features ofBrahms's mature orchestral idiom, in which interchanging and soloisticwind and horn writing are characteristic. The predominance of windsand the less expansive style, though again with prominent dancelike elements,makes the title "Serenade" more appropriate for this work, whichcould almost be played out of doors. The integration of style elements isimmediately apparent in the incorporation of triplets into the first subject,whereas they appear only as a means of contrast in the second subjectin the Serenade in D. Also, his treatment of the dance movementsshows more individuality. The outer movements are again in sonata formand sonata-rondo form, with a central Adagio non troppo in ternaryform flanked now by two rather than three movements, one each ofScherzo and Trio and "Quasi-Menuetto" and Trio; the total structuredisplays much greater economy and ingenuity. There is a strong differencein the organization of the first movements, this one being notablefor omitting the repetition of the exposition and, instead, prefacing thedevelopment with a brief statement of the first theme in the tonic witha modulating continuation into the development. But the form is not arondo; its sonata spirit is apparent in the extensive and powerful laterdevelopment of the first theme and the retransition back to it, though thethemes themselves are succinct. The Rondo Finale is similarly economical,though with a development in the central section that makes particularlyexpressive use of the lyrical second theme in the oboe—the themeis now cast in the minor and is imitated by the cellos. The main theme recallsthe Scherzo (notable for its ostinato rhythm and its continuouslyconnected trio serving as a variation) in its use of a hunting-horn idiom,which includes the same opening interval of a rising fourth as a call toattention. The movement also includes a false reprise of the rondo themein augmentation after the development, with a complete recompositionof the section. In form and ideas, the movement comes closer to its counterpartin the Serenade in D than do any other corresponding movements.The third movement now carries even more expressive weight, inview of its reflective and expansive character and its dramatic centralsection, with horn and wind writing that looks directly to the SecondSymphony and the Violin Concerto. Clara's comment that "it mightbe eleison" perhaps alludes to the association with Baroque churchmusic of the modulating ostinato bass, on which the first section ofits ternary form is built; the wind melody above intensifies the sense of acontrapuntal structure, especially as it is treated in imitation. The centralsection comes closest to a fully orchestral idiom with its tremolostrings and dramatic horn writing, initiating an elaboration thatyields to the recapitulation of the ostinato by gradual stages of themeand key.

    The greater maturity of the work is especially clear in the adaptationof traditional idioms. The "quasi-Menuetto" transforms the triple meterinto a larger duple meter of 6/4, the motivic idiom giving the whole areflective and improvisatory quality, intensified when the second part beginsin the mediant, F# major; the Trio is in the minor mode of this keyand its even more elusive character led Clara to note a "floating" qualityin the oboe melody. The ostinato rhythm of the Scherzo permits a readingof three groups of two beats in the two-measure idea, which is mademore explicit in the tied hemiola effect at the final cadence, a featurethat continues through the Trio. Subtleties such as these, combined withthe unusual scoring and length—too long for an overture, not longenough for a symphony—have made the work difficult to program anddenied it the popularity of its companion until the era of the CD, thoughit was at first better received.

Michael Musgrave