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Current time:0:00Total duration:12:12

Johannes Brahms: "Academic Festival Overture", analysis by Gerard Schwarz

Video transcript

johannes brahms was not a university man he never attended university but in 1879 when he was 46 he was offered her doctor and philosophy from the University of Breslau he accepted he was anxious to be acknowledged in that academic way but part of the deal was he had a right of peace in the 19th century when people were given honorary degrees they had to do something nowadays you get an honorary degree it's usually because you have done things you have accomplished a certain amount you have a certain fame and they say we'd like to honor you by giving you a degree it's rare that anyone asks you to do anything when Ricard Strauss was given an honorary degree he was required to write a piece and he wrote a piece kaalia fair the thing it's a remarkable piece but the thing about the piece is it takes 20 minutes but it calls for 200 people to be on this stage huge brass a tenor solo a huge chorus I mean what he did was he just took every possible person he could he could find in Heidelberg and put them on this stage for his to get his honorary degree Brahms did something I mean not similar but in a way his largest orchestra three trumpets not two trumpets now that's I think the only time he ever used three trumpets of course normal three trombones tuba used a piccolo in the contrabassoon which he did quite often and percussion Brahms described it as a cheerful peppery of student song Sala supe that refers to franz von supe who was a wonderful composer of operettas and overtures in fact he uses for student songs as the basis for the whole work the academic festival overture begins in a very subtle quiet way and what's interesting to me of course is that not only are the strings pliable but you have the percussion joined it right away how unusual I'm trying to remember if I can think of an example in Brahms or any composer of that period where they begin a piece using the percussion right at the beginning like that and it adds a certain air of expectation when the woodwinds come in there is a certain dark hue a dark color again of expectation where is this leading finally we get the first chorale tune played by the violas and then that melody extended by the horn this leads back to the initial material again and all of a sudden it builds and it becomes exuberant so finally you have something that it's loud and exciting and then immediately he brings you back to this and ambiguous pianissimo the woodwinds playing something very simple and the strings playing a little bit late every time they're never together and when you hear music where no one's ever together you either think that they're making a mistake and they just can't play together or what's going on here Beethoven did it a numerous times but here Brahms does it and it gives you this feeling of what's gonna happen next and then finally we get the second school tune played by a brass chorale of horns and trumpets this brass Corral leads to another wonderful romantic moment we repeat what we heard at the beginning and then the violins come in with another beautiful tone and again it's I don't know in some ways this is like all the great Brahms done in ten minutes because it has this beautiful tune reminiscent a little bit of the fourth symphony and then the woodwinds answer it it's just and then it expands and becomes luscious and has beautiful harmonies and and suspensions it's just just absolutely exquisite it is reminiscent of so much of bran remember he was now in his mid-40s by then he yes hadn't written all those symphonies but he had the ability to do it and you can see it all here finally you get the jovial theme now this is the third of the of the school themes played by the the two bassoons what's also interesting about this is that the violas and cellos are accompanying the two persons but never on the beat you'll hear the bassoon and it just makes it a little funnier and then the one that when that when finally the violins and violas come in they're playing again pit ceccato it's a credible imagination of this capable what to do you have a simple tune how to make it interesting how to make it fascinating and and then all of a sudden explosion and the violence Rin and the same tune is played Forte loudly and little variety big 3rd horn solo love triplet so it's just it's just marvelous eventually the same jovial tune is played by the brass as a real brass fanfare while the strings now are playing those off beats but they playing them aggressively and loudly this leads eventually through the recapitulation of all the early material and then finally the great melody the great tune of all the gada a most eager tour and played by the brass and when we listen to this pay special attention to the wonderful string writing because here when the brass and the woodwinds are never playing this great melody the violins and violas are playing fast notes furiously with what we call syncopation so they're not on the beat but rather it gives the feeling of being slightly off and then when those syncopations resolve to being on the beat it gives you a feeling of having arrived then he switches and has the violence for the melody in the cello bass playing accompaniment and famous triangle soul percussion brass and it ends in a very very exciting way in ten minutes we get a lot of what Brahms is and who Brahms is of course he always under played the importance and the grandeur of his music but this one is among the most beautiful among the most charming and very optimistically moving pieces and in all of Brahms an overture that these days is rarely played and yet for me it's a great great gesture by one of the great geniuses you