During the summers of and , Brahms composed his Symphony No. Many have speculated as to its source. Perhaps Brahms simply wanted to compose a symphony that would contrast with his previous ones, which all end in major keys.
One imagines that this is the work Brahms always wanted to write, a work in which form and function are balanced, in which technique opens new paths to expression, allowing him to voice his deepest convictions about all the unnamables that shape destiny. Listen to the first sighs in the strings. The voice is at once resigned and searching and its broad phrases are transformed for a moment into a nervous figure in the winds before growing into a lament of deep yearning. Throughout this movement, the nervous and the keening will alternate, and they fuse in the odd episode that sounds as though Brahms had entered the world of the tango, where dance steps offer a staccato accompaniment to long languid lines. By the end of the movement, all this has changed. A chapter that began with music saturated in regret has taken on resolve. The broad probing phrases of the opening bars are compressed into projectiles of energy, gathering momentum until they erupt in a cataclysmic climax. The summons of a horn call begins the Andante moderato, outlining a figure that the winds take up, a pacing, tentative melody of closely spaced intervals, a melody that fails to range far from where it starts—we are still recovering from the upheaval in which the first movement ended. Soon, however, the possibilities of warmth in this theme are revealed, and the high strings enter to transform carefully ventured steps into a high-temperature flow of gloriously confident forward movement.
The Symphony No. It was premiered on October 25, in Meiningen , Germany. The symphony is scored for two flutes one doubling on piccolo on third movement only , two oboes , two clarinets , two bassoons , contrabassoon third and fourth movements , four horns , two trumpets , three trombones fourth movement only , timpani two in first and second movements, three in third and fourth movements , triangle third movement only , and strings. The symphony is divided into four movements with the following tempo markings :. This is the only one of Brahms' four symphonies to end in a minor key.