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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    MDG
    90121186
    2018
    Urania / Urania Records
    WS 121362
    2018
    Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler
    PH 18065
    2018
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    MIR 340
    2018
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    2018
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    88985460812
    2018
    Piano Classics
    PCL 10145
    2018
    Solo Musica
    SM 284
    2018
    dB Productions
    dBCD 183
    2018
    Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    4798418
    2017
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    CRC 3565/3566
    2017
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMG 501977
    2017
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    814337019280
    2017
    Hallé Orchestra
    CDHLD 7546
    2017
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    0190295869212
    2017
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    ERP 9817
    2017
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    4797477
    2017
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    IDIS 6720
    2016
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    MELCD 1002386
    2016
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    4793985
    2016
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    0190295975104
    2016
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    88875169792
    2016
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    DSD 350068
    2016
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    4796314
    2016
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    002894795516
    2016
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    B002436502
    2016
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    2016
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    143332
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    2016
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    4795448
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    4794899
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    4821358
    2015
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    002369302
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    2564635354
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    88843006072
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2564639427
    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2013
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    2011
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    63265
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    99668
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    17
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    720132
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    66378
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    60388
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    5884
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    475024
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    473267
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    8 554116
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    512875
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    80252
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    36752
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    474024
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    75502
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    93 075
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    171
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    554088
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    51000
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    66418
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    409-412
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    9612
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    63059
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