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Classical 101

A "Spiritually Uplifting" Brahms First Symphony on Symphony @ 7

Photo album from the Brahms-Institut of Lubec
A photo of Brahms from 1876, the year he composed his "Symphony no. 1", taken from his personal photo collection.

A new live concert recording of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor will be presented  this evening on the next Symphony @ 7 .  It was the concluding performance of A Celebration of Peace Through Music which took place on May 5 of last year at Washington D. C.'s Constitution Hall.

Led by Sir Gilbert Levine, the concert celebrated the canonization of two recent Popes: John XXIII and John Paul II.  A central focus of maestro Levine's work has been on, "spiritually uplifting music-making, celebrating universal human themes and values."  According to the information on this Delos release, the "reigning Pope Francis, who has so quickly captured the world's attention, is also honored through the music-making on this disc."

Before the Brahms symphony, other works at that concert included Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, choral pieces such as Henryk Gorecki's Totus Tuus and the Sanctus from Verdi's Requiem with the Krakow Philharmonic Choir and the Choral Arts Society of Washington.  Gilbert Levine conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's.

We'll listen to the concluding work of the concert, Johannes Brahm's First Symphony; composed in 1876. The piece underwent a long gestation period due to the composer's reluctance to compete with Beethoven, even though the latter was long dead.  Beethoven had set the bar pretty high with his Ninth Symphony from 1824.  It was worth the wait though, for when Brahms's symphony did finally appear, it didn't take long to be regarded as a masterpiece.

The symphony begins in the dramatic key of C minor with a first movement full of conflict and struggle but it then relaxes.  Long before the end, the tension has eased and the music has transformed into a radiant major tonality for the uplifting and triumphant finale.  About four and a half minutes into the final movement in this performance, you can hear a brief musical reference to Beethoven's Ninth as a kind of homage to the great composer.

Join me for some inspired music-making from Gilbert Levine and the Orchestra of St. Luke's for Brahms on Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101.