This is the first of what I hope will be a series of brief ‘piano presentations’ into iconic orchestral moments.
Brahms was stepping into the ring with this first symphony, taking on the all-time heavy-weight that was Beethoven. He’d essayed symphonic form in other orchestral works previously, but this was the moment that everybody had been waiting for. Could he say something that held its own against the might of Beethoven’s ninth?
He could, and the opening is one of the most powerful gestures he committed to score, full of defiance and drama. In this short podcast I point to three factors that lie behind that power. Here is an orchestral version to listen to afterwards: