Friday Five: Heavenly Brahms

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Tonight Joe is performing Brahms’ German Requiem with the American Festival Chorus. The word “Requiem” might seem a little intimidating to most. It’s literally a ‘Mass for the Dead.’ What’s not heavy or intimidating about that? But, musicians know Requiems are the stuff of dreams and some of the most beautiful, most powerful music ever written. Need proof? Check out Mozart’s, Faure’s or, my favorite and maybe the most famous, Verdi’s…and don’t forget to pick your jaw up off the floor when you’re finished listening. Ohmygod, the 22-minute mark of the Verdi. I get chills every single time I hear it.

I’ve never played Brahms’ Requiem, despite him being one of my top three favorite composers. I joke with Joe that I’m a Brahms-hornist. His is the music I like to play most and, to me, what I play best. His harmonies, his heart, the forward motion of his works…its some of the most thoughtful music you might ever experience.

If I had to list my top five works by Brahms it wouldn’t be too surprising. The man only wrote four symphonies and one horn trio. Done. So, I decided to be a little more specific and draw out some of my favorite moments for you to enjoy. This is just the beginning of Brahms’ beauty. If you aren’t familiar with it, grab a cup of tea. You’re about to hear the best of it.

5. The Violin Concerto

Listening to this makes me wish he had written a horn concerto. I love his play between soloist and orchestra.

4. Symphony No. 4, 4th Movement

One of the things I love most about Brahms’ symphonic works is his powerful brass chorale-like writing. It’s distinct, but doesn’t detract from the rest of the orchestra. This movement is a perfect example of it. I also love it because it’s the first of his symphonies I performed as principal. It’s when I knew Marci + Johannes = Forever.

3. Symphony No. 1, 4th Movement

Another great symphonic finale. This one, however, holds an even more special place in my heart. Joe and I performed this while on a European Tour with our Chinese orchestra. The concert was in Paris where Napoleon was buried and this movement features a powerful “alp horn” section where the 1st and 2nd horns echo back and forth….as loud as possible. Quote possibly one of our finest moments as a performing couple. Oh, did we wake you, Napoleon? Listen for the glorious, understated low-brass chorale at 3:46. The horns come in right after at 4:10.

2. Symphony 2, 1st movement

The first time I ever played this was at a summer festival where the conductor was getting a lesson. Poor guy wasn’t capturing the heart of the movement, so his instructor came to the podium to work on the second theme. It’s a gorgeous melody that feels equally heart-warming and heart-wrenching. He called it the “Grandmother Theme.” And now I can’t hear it without thinking of my own grandmas. It’s beautiful like that. Picture your own when the theme starts at 2:35.

1. Horn Trio, 3rd movement

Of course this would be my number one. I wish I could put the whole piece as my favorite, but if I had to pick a movement, this would be it. The piece was written shortly after the death of Brahms’  mother and, in this movement especially, you feel his intense grief as if it’s your own. It’s quite remarkable and brings me to tears in live performances.

I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent listening to all of these videos as I’ve found them. I thought this was going to be a fast post to throw together, but that’s what happens with Brahms. It’s hard to come back to reality when you’ve heard a piece of heaven.

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