Johannes Brahms

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Johannes Brahms was 20 years old when, in 1853, he first made the acquaintance of Robert Schumann through a letter of recommendation provided by the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. It was Schumann's unabashed praise of the music that Brahms showed him that, more than anything else, provided the young composer with the courage necessary to begin work on a full-scale symphony the next year. That courage, however, fell short in the end -- Brahms felt himself too inexperienced and was too haunted by the "footsteps of a giant" (Beethoven) to begin fruitful symphonic work -- and Brahms reorganized the material he had written as a sonata for two pianos. By 1858, this sonata for two pianos had itself been reborn as the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15.

    The Piano Concerto No. 1 as we know it today is a complete reworking of the ideas and themes of the original duo-sonata source; much of it is completely new music. The premiere of the piece in January 1859 was not the failure that it is sometimes portrayed to have been, but the cold response at a follow-up performance in Leipzig left a bitter taste in Brahms' mouth that he never forgot -- Leipzig remained an enemy for the rest of his life.

    The concerto is in three movements: Maestoso, Adagio, and Allegro non troppo. The orchestral exposition to the giant Maestoso is mighty, epic, and tragic in no small portion; much later, a radiant, chorale-like second idea is offered by the soloist, who Brahms provides with the kind of rich, deep sonorities so characteristic of his piano writing. At the recapitulation, which is ushered in by a massive climax in which the pianist is forced to use all his/her strength to compete with the massive orchestral bursts, the pianist boldly takes over the mighty utterances that began the movement.

    Brahms wrote the words "Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini" at the head of the slow movement, but whether the words are an homage to Robert Schumann (whom Brahms sometimes called Domini), a portrait of Clara Schumann (the most popular interpretation, and one seemingly supported by a letter from Brahms to Clara), or some other reference is unknown.

    The rondo-theme of the finale is introduced by the piano alone, and, later on, the soloist gets his/her one and only chance to impress the audience with a cadenza -- though it is dramatic necessity, not garish virtuosity, that demands the cadenza in the first place.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Maestoso
    2. Adagio
    3. Rondo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 IDIS IDIS 6720
    2016 Melodiya MELCD 1002386
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4793985
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295975104
    2016 Praga / Praga Digitals DSD 350068
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894795516
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002436502
    2016 Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 88875032272
    2016 Celestial Harmonies 143332
    2016 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902191
    2016 SWR Music SWR 19022CD
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646480401
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4794899
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4821358
    2015 Decca 002369302
    2014 ArcoDiva / Triart TR 005
    2014 Erato 2564635354
    2014 Erato 2564632295
    2014 Capriccio Records C 5210
    2014 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Erato 2564622737
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843003502
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843006072
    2013 Muso MU 005
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290840108
    2013 Decca / S / Universal Music As
    2013 Hyperion CDA 67961
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 ABC Classics PLU 351694
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon B001904602
    2013 Warner Classics 2564639427
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 ICA Classics ICAB 5114
    2013 Doremi Records DHR 80179
    2013 Archipel APRCD 0557
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Audite AUDITE 95622
    2013 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 88725462392
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099901924
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    2012 Arbiter ARBITER 160
    2012 Archipel ARPCD 0488
    2012 Urlicht 5999
    2012 Naxos 8501056
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4790913
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 Decca 4782604
    2011 Decca
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    2011 Fuga Libera 573
    2011 DG Deutsche Grammophon B 001612002
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