This is the first published work of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who actually wrote his second sonata first, but thought this work was of higher quality and decided to have it published in 1853. Both sonatas were sent to Breitkopf & Härtel with a letter of recommendation written by Robert Schumann, who, along with his wife Clara, had heard Brahms play and were very impressed. Both of the Schumann’s foresaw the bright future Brahms went on to have as a composer. The sonata is dedicated to Hungarian violinist and musician Joseph Joachim, who was a close collaborator of Brahms.
There are four movements:
Written in C major, the first theme of this movement is an homage to Beethoven, specifically, to Sonata No. 29 in Bb major, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier). Compare the openings of first the Brahms and then the Beethoven below it:
The movement is very technically challenging with a wide range of emotional contrast – very much in the same vein as Beethoven.
This movement, which begins in the parallel C minor, is a theme and variations based off of the German song Verstohlen geht der Mond auf (stealthily the moon rises). See below the statement of the theme, in which Brahms provides the text as well:
Allegro molto e con fuoco — Più mosso
The third movement is a scherzo with a rather odd key scheme of E minor – C major – E minor. The Piú mosso changes to a 3/4 time signature from the 6/8 that the beginning section was in, in addition to moving to C major.
Allegro con fuoco — Presto non troppo ed agitato
The fourth movement is somewhat of a rondo, but the theme is changed significantly upon each return. Written in 9/8, the opening is metrically ambiguous, as Brahms places accents on off beats, such as beat nine in the first and third bars:
Publishers of Brahms’ music include:
- Breitkopf & Härtel
- Henle Verlag
Notable performers with recordings of this piece include:
- Sviatoslav Richter
- Krystian Zimerman
- Peter Rösel
Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:
The Captain has never been a fan of Brahms, but respects his genius. The thick chordal texture is very difficult technically, and can lead to injury if one’s technical facility is not where it should be. As this is the case for the Captain, he has strayed away from Brahms.