April 16, 2013

Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim: Friendship, Collaboration and Composition

Johannes Brahms, 1853
Joseph Joachim, 1853, by Menzel
Joseph Joachim, 1853, by Menzel

When I read a book it feels like I know the author just a little bit.  The more books I read by the same author, the more personal the perception of relationship becomes.  That same acquaintance is true when listening to music.  Beethoven, Mozart, Bach-their styles are well known and comfortably familiar.  I am barely an amateur musician, but when I play music and multiple pieces by the same composer it adds a depth and understanding to the experience.  So imagine the process and experience of collaborating with a composer on a concerto written for your instrument. A close friendship between composer and performer can be an intimate creative process. Such were the circumstances between Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim in creating Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77.

Joseph Joachim and Amalie Weiss
Joseph Joachim and Amalie Weiss
Joachim and Brahms were alike in many aspects.  They both held very high standards of music quality and artistic integrity.  Joachim is “widely regarded as one of the most accomplished violinist of his time.”  He and Brahms collaborated closely for many years. From 1881 to 1883 their friendship cooled after Joachim believed his wife was having an affair and Brahms disagreed with the suspicions in a letter written to Joachim’s wife.  She offered the letter as evidence in the divorce proceedings.

Had Brahms and Joachim not met in May 1853, Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 may have never been written.  At the ages of 20 and 21 the musicians, Brahms as accompanist and Joachim as violinist, become life-long friends. In 1853, Joachim introduced Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann, another life-changing friendship for Brahms. Brahms fell in love with Hungarian music during his friendship with Hungarian Joachim and as a result composed his well-known Hungarian Dances from 1858-1868.

Brahms’ summer in Pörtschach Austria in 1878 inspired a sketch of their most significant collaboration, the Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, in 1878. The first performance, in Leipzig, on New Year’s Day, 1879.

In modern culture, the third movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major has been used in film scores such as Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood including the end and main credits. The third movement was also the inspiration for the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice song Don't Cry for Me Argentina from the musical Evita.

Brahms’ love of Hungarian themes inspired the third movement of his concerto.  Spring Program book contains program notes for the Concerto discussing the technical side of the piece are available here.

by Judy Cowling

Los Angles Philharmonic program notes written by Grant Hiroshima, executive director of a private foundation in Chicago and the former Director of Technology Development for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Arizona Theater http://www.arizonatheatre.org/atc-resources/dynamic/ed_docs/opnDrs_playguide-Brahms.pdf
Chicago Symphony
The Musical Quarterly
Johannes Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77: (1878)

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