Mission: To seek and share inspiration


Brahms Fest Symphony No 4


Program Notes


THURS JAN 5, 7:30 pm • SAT JAN 7, 8 pm

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor • JASMIN WHITE soprano • REBECCA PRINTZ mezzo-soprano • DONGWHI BAEK tenor • JACOB KINCAIDE bass-baritone • MAY FESTIVAL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE  Robert Porco, conductor

J.S. BACH (1685-1750)

Cantata No. 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (“For Thee, Lord, I Long”)

• Sinfonia

• Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (Chorus)

• Doch bin und bleibe ich vergnügt (Soprano)

• Leite mich in deiner Wahrheit und lehre mich (Chorus)

• Zedern müssen von den Winden (Alto, Tenor, Bass)

• Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn (Chorus)

• Meine Tage in den Leiden (Chorus)

WEBERN (1883-1945)

Passacaglia, Op. 1


BRAHMS (b 1833-1897)

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

• Allegro non troppo

• Andante moderato

• Allegro giocoso

• Allegro energico e passionato. Più allegro


Cantata No. 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (“For Thee, Lord, I Long”)

Born: March 21, 1685, Eisenach, Germany  | Died: July 28, 1750, Leipzig, Germany

Work composed: c. 1707 

Premiere: Unknown

Instrumentation: SATB soloists, SATB chorus, bassoon, harpsichord, strings (no viola)

CSO subscription performances: Premiere 

Duration: approx. 15 min.

Johann Sebastian Bach, ambitious, feisty and not yet 20, got his first appointment in August of 1703, as organist of the New Church at Arnstadt, a small town 70 miles southwest of Leipzig. The few records that survive of Bach’s Arnstadt tenure concern mainly his continuing tiffs with the town council, who demanded explanations when he refused to accompany the church school’s choir on grounds of its musical incompetence, or when he came to blows over an insult to a student (whom he accused of being a “nanny-goat bassoonist”), or when his improvising was judged “too curious” and “too confused” and “too long” for the well-being of the congregation, or when he invited a “young female stranger” (perhaps his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, whom he was to marry in 1708) into the organ loft—with the pastor’s permission, he contended—for the purpose of a little informal music-making. Bach’s prickly relationship with his municipal employers came to a head early in 1706, after he overstayed, by three months (!), the leave he had been granted to hear the concerts of the renowned Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck, some 200 miles away. Bach promised an explanation in writing, but there is no record that he ever offered one. Cushioned by an extraordinary skill as an organist that was bringing him notoriety and job offers, a vast family deeply embedded in the musical and political life of northern Germany, and a quickly maturing genius for composition, Bach bided his time.

In the spring of 1707, the organist’s job opened at St. Blasius’ Church in the Free Imperial City of Mühlhausen, 30 miles northwest of Arnstadt. Bach auditioned on Easter Sunday 1707 (April 24); no other applicants were heard. He was formally awarded the post a month later, at a salary 20 percent higher than that of his predecessor, and he felt secure enough to undertake a marriage with his cousin Maria Barbara in October. In addition to playing at St. Blasius and one of the city’s minor churches, Bach composed several organ works and a few occasional vocal pieces at Mühlhausen. His work there was respected—his specifications for the rebuilding of the organ at St. Blasius were enthusiastically adopted and the council financed the publication of two of his compositions—but he again ran afoul of controversy when his pastor began espousing the Pietist doctrine that admitted only the most austere music into the service, which allowed no place for Bach’s grand musical designs. In June of 1708, only a year after arriving in Mühlhausen, Bach was off again, this time to become organist, violinist and “Chief Chamber Musician” to the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst at Weimar, where he solidified his reputation as one of the day’s most gifted musicians.

The half-dozen cantatas that have survived from Bach’s Arnstadt and Mühlhausen tenures are mostly occasional pieces, composed for weddings, funerals and city council installations; one, the Easter cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden (“Christ Lay in Death’s Grim Prison,” BWV 4), may have been Bach’s audition piece for Mühlhausen. Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (“For Thee, Lord, I Long”) was written during that time, though its date and the occasion or service for which it was intended are unknown. Even its authenticity was questioned for some time—the editors of the first complete edition of Bach’s works contended vigorously over whether it should be included before publishing it in 1884—but it is now generally accepted as one of Bach’s earliest cantatas, perhaps even his first in the genre to which he was to contribute well over 200 peerless examples.

Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, with the prominence given to the chorus and the lack of a chorale setting, differs somewhat from the typical formal model of Bach’s later cantatas. Like them, however, it juxtaposes Biblical verses (here Psalm 25) with complementary original texts (whose author for this work is unknown) and exhibits the masterful counterpoint, melodic invention, harmonic surety and expressive cogency that Bach had already developed as a young man. The opening Sinfonia establishes the cantata’s somber mood (it has been conjectured that the work was originally intended for a Lenten or Advent penitential service, the communal seeking of remission of sins) while also introducing the drooping chromatic descent, a musical metaphor for sorrow since the Renaissance, that serves as the thematic germ for the fugal chorus that follows (“For Thee, Lord, I long”). The brief third movement (“Yet I am and remain content”), the cantata’s only solo aria, uses some subtle, repeated-note tone painting for the text Kreuz, Sturm und andre Proben—“affliction [or cross, perhaps a reference to Lent], storm and other trials.” The ensuing chorus (“Lead me in your Truth and teach me”), whose opening section drives a remarkable rising, heaven-bent scale through all the voices, is a supplication in alternating tempos that is by turns prayerful and optimistic. The moto perpetuo cello line in the following trio for alto, tenor and bass suggests the import of its text—“Cedars must, before the winds, often feel much hardship…. Heed not what howls against you, since his Word teaches otherwise.” The penultimate movement is infused with the warmth and gentle motion of a lullaby as the penitent contemplates the vision of its verse: “My eyes gaze continually upon the Lord.” The closing chorus (“My days of suffering God will nevertheless end in joy”), which resumes the serious demeanor with which the cantata began, is based on a repeating bass figure that Johannes Brahms, a lead editor for the first complete edition of Bach’s works, borrowed for the finale of his Fourth Symphony.

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda

The text and translation will appear in the January program book.


Passacaglia, Op. 1

Born: December 3, 1883, Vienna | Died: September 15, 1945, Mittersill, Austria, near Salzburg

Work composed: Spring 1908

Premiere: November 4, 1908, Vienna—Webern conducting the Tonkinstlerverein Orchestra

Instrumentation2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals a2, tam-tam, triangle, harp, strings

CSO subscription performances: Seven previous subscription weekends | Premiere: October 1964, Max Rudolf conducting | Most recent: April 2012, Juraj Valčuha conducting

Durationapprox. 11 min.

It can be fascinating to hear an early work by a composer who was eventually to become a musician of extraordinary originality. In the Passacaglia, written when Webern was 25, we can discover not only hints of his inimitable mature style, but also influences on his formative years. Anyone who knows Webern’s later music—aphoristic, compressed, intense, atonal—may be surprised at the lushly romantic tonal sounds of his Opus 1. The Passacaglia is firmly in D minor, although there are passages of such intense chromaticism that the sense of key all but evaporates.

Webern’s eventual predilection for brevity and transparency is already evident. Furthermore, the passacaglia technique, in which a single melodic line is present throughout a composition, anticipates Webern’s later 12-tone music, in which a particular ordering of the notes of the chromatic scale pervades every melody and every harmony. The theme of the Passacaglia is not a 12-tone row, but it is used like one. Furthermore, like a row it avoids note duplications. The last of its eight notes is the only pitch that has been heard previously, at the theme’s beginning.

At the time Webern was composing the Passacaglia, he was also finishing a doctorate in musicology at the University of Vienna. For his dissertation he analyzed and edited the Choralis Constantinus by renaissance composer Heinrich Isaac (1450–1517). From these historical studies Webern developed a lifelong interest in such contrapuntal procedures as passacaglia (used in Opus 1) and canon (used occasionally in Opus 1 and throughout many of his atonal and 12-tone pieces).

The word “passacaglia” is believed to come from the Spanish pasar (“to walk”) and calle (“street”). The genre may have originated as a Spanish street dance, based on a short stately theme in triple time. Passacaglias (and the virtually identical chaconnes) were particularly prevalent in 17th- and 18th-century keyboard works by such composers as Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Purcell, Couperin, Frescobaldi, Raison and Bach.

In the hands of these composers the form became intellectualized and rather far removed from a street dance. The baroque passacaglia repeats its short theme again and again, with various elaborations. It is therefore similar to a variation form, except that the theme tends to be much briefer and the variations run continuously one into the next. There was a resurgence of interest in the passacaglia in the late 19th century, particularly in the works of Reger and Brahms. The latter cast the last movement of his Fourth Symphony in passacaglia form. Webern’s Opus 1 owes more than a little to this symphony.

In 1904 Webern became the first private composition student of Arnold Schoenberg, who was then at the threshold of his career. Thirty years old, he was just emerging as a prominent composer working in a late tonal style. For him as for Webern, modernism and atonality still lay in the future. The younger composer showed his new teacher his most ambitious work to date, an orchestral piece called Im Sommerwind. Schoenberg advised Webern to avoid large ensembles for the time being and to concentrate on the string quartet. Thus, in the ensuing months he wrote several exercises and compositions for that medium, including the Langsamer Satz, his first major work, and the still more mature string quartet composed immediately afterward. Only then did Webern feel ready to return to the orchestral medium, creating what he would eventually consider his earliest piece worthy of being published with an opus number. The Passacaglia, Op. 1 became the next to last of his tonal works as well as the next to last piece he composed under Schoenberg’s guidance.

KEYNOTE. A passacaglia is a particularly challenging form for a composer. While the constant reiterations of a simple theme can be counted on to provide a degree of consistency, it is difficult to avoid monotony. Webern solves this problem by adding a great variety of counterpoints to the theme, sometimes all but obscuring it in an extravagant orchestral tapestry.

Even if melodic monotony is avoided, there is a danger of harmonic repetitiveness, particularly since Webern’s theme both begins and ends on D. The composer meets this challenge by allowing the theme, which is essentially a bass line, to migrate to other voices. Since the chordal language is rich, there are many ways to harmonize this tune, as the music continually demonstrates.

Another problem is that the same music repeating every eight measures may make it difficult to construct larger gestures, to build to climaxes, to create big sections. Webern avoids this danger by varying the orchestration, changing tempos and creating large sections with freer added melodies.

So that we will be able to recognize it in its subsequent transformations, the basic theme is first presented alone, in pizzicato strings. It is immediately repeated in a trumpet, with a beautiful countermelody added in the flute. Then the theme moves to the harp, where it is hardly noticed against a lovely clarinet melody (which is destined to become increasingly important throughout the work) that has a horn countermelody and a string accompaniment. The passacaglia theme then becomes the bass line (pizzicato cellos and basses) in a string passage. Next it is in an inner voice played by a horn against a string and wind passage. Then it is again in the bass line, this time during vigorous string and wind music.

And so the theme repeats some 17 times. But then the mounting intensity of other materials begins to fragment it. It is present at times, represented in a skeletal version at other times, and sometimes only remembered. Its influence is always felt, as there are constant reminders of its melodic shape, but Webern finally meets the challenge of passacaglia form in a most radical manner: by allowing the more expansive countermelodies to oust the theme. The result is a victory of expression over structure, of emotional intensity over economical construction, of freedom over constraint.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany | Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna

Work composed: During the summers of 1884 and 1885 in Mürzzuschlag, Austria

Premiere: October 17, 1885, Meiningen, Germany—Brahms conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (including piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, strings

CSO subscription performances: 37 previous subscription weekends; also on 10-week world tour in 1966, Max Rudolf conducting—the CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State | Premiere: March 1900, Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: January 2012, Jun Märkl conducting

Duration: approx. 41 min.

Brahms liked to retreat to small rural towns for the summer months, in order to work close to the natural settings he deeply loved. In 1884 he decided to spend the summer in Mürzzuschlag in the Austrian Alps, a town he had visited 17 years earlier with his father. Brahms made several friends in the village and received many guests from Vienna, but he nonetheless had ample time to finish the first two movements of his new symphony. Since he liked the town, he returned the following summer to complete the work.

The composer went home to Vienna in the fall with the completed score of what he knew to be a most unusual symphony. As he was eager to have his friends hear it, he made a four-hand piano arrangement, which he played with the help of his friend Ignaz Brüll. Critic Max Kalbeck, who was Brahms’ first biographer, related the awkwardness of first hearing this confusing piece:

As Brahms was out of practice and Brüll had never seen the work, the performance was less than perfect. The first movement was received with dead silence, into which at last Eduard Hanslick, the critic who had previously championed each new work of Brahms, interjected, “Throughout the entire movement I had the sensation of being flailed by two fearfully ingenious persons.”

The composer’s friend Elisabeth von Herzogenberg complained of the “tangled overgrowth of ingeniously interwoven detail.” The performers passed on to the second movement, which met with no reaction at all. At last Kalbeck spoke, uttering some banality in order to break the tense silence. The performers continued. Kalbeck felt that the “shaggy, grimly joyful scherzo seemed far too insignificant in comparison to the preceding movements, and the mighty passacaglia of the finale—the crowning glory of all of Brahms’ variation movements—did not appear a proper conclusion for a symphony.” The critic went to visit the composer the next day, to implore him to destroy the scherzo, preserve the finale as a separate work and write two new movements. Uncharacteristically, Brahms did not get angry. He defended his use of variation form in a finale, citing the precedent of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

The composer, as usual, had his own doubts about the new composition. He wrote to conductor Hans von Bülow in typically self-deprecating fashion: “A few entr’actes are lying here ready—the thing one usually calls a symphony.” To another friend Brahms wrote, “It is very questionable whether I will ever expose the public to this piece.” But he was confident beneath this facade of self-effacement. He believed in his unusual new symphony, and he wanted to hear an orchestra play it. That was the real reason for the letter to von Bülow. He continued:

I often indulge myself by imagining how nicely and comfortably I could work on this piece with you and the Meiningen Orchestra while on tour. I am thinking now—and at the same time pondering—whether the symphony will find more of a public. I fear it smacks of this country—the cherries are not sweet here and you would certainly not eat them! In Rhenish or Dutch towns, where my other things are heard often enough and liked, the new symphony would probably be quite a good item. How amusing it would be if I were to travel with you as a sort of extra conductor!

Von Bülow had been a strong supporter of Brahms for several years. Previously he had allied himself with the rival faction, led by avant-gardists Wagner and Liszt. He had married Liszt’s daughter Cosima, but she left him to live with, have children by and eventually marry Wagner. These events caused the most proper von Bülow public embarrassment and private chagrin. He abandoned the cause of avant garde music and began to champion Brahms, the latter-day classicist. It was von Bülow who had coined the phrase “the three Bs,” equating the genius of Brahms with that of Bach and Beethoven. The conductor supported Brahms’ music as ardently as he had that of Wagner and Liszt:

I have [Brahms] to thank for being restored to sanity—late, but I hope not too late—in fact, for being still alive. Three quarters of my existence has been misspent on my former father-in-law, that mountebank, and his tribe, but the remainder belongs to the true saints of art and above all to him.

Von Bülow offered Brahms his orchestra for first performances and even for trying out passages of works in progress. Von Bülow readily agreed to allow Brahms to tour with the orchestra as an “extra conductor.”

Von Bülow had learned from Wagner that composers can be hard to deal with. His friendship with Brahms subsequently suffered a rift that might well have reminded him that geniuses can be temperamental and not always trustworthy. First of all, Brahms insisted that no other work of any substance precede the Fourth Symphony on tour concerts. Then the composer asked to conduct the piece on nine different occasions, including the premiere (which von Bülow had rehearsed). Von Bülow began to wonder who was really the “extra” conductor. The final blow came when Brahms absented himself from the orchestra for a few days in November, in order to conduct the Fourth Symphony with the Frankfurt Orchestra. Von Bülow had scheduled a performance in Frankfurt a few days later, and he was insulted when the composer stole his thunder with a prior performance. Von Bülow felt that Brahms was showing a lack of confidence in him and that his professional honor had been compromised. He over-reacted by resigning his post as conductor of the Meiningen Orchestra. The composer and the conductor maintained a stony silence for a year.

Eventually the friendship was restored. Von Bülow came to Vienna and Brahms sent him a card with a musical quotation from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, the words of which are “Shall I never see thee again, beloved?” Von Bülow was touched and immediately called on Brahms, and the friendship was renewed.

The Fourth Symphony, despite the doubts of Brahms’ friends, was popular with audiences, eventually even in staid Vienna. Its unusual nature did not detract from its impact. Its strangeness lies in its combination of modern (for 1885) harmonies and suggestions of old music. This tendency toward the archaic is evident in the opening and closing of the slow movement, which implies one of the renaissance era’s church modes (the phrygian), and in the finale. The last movement is cast as a passacaglia, a form popular with baroque composers. In a passacaglia a short theme is repeated again and again, with different variations and ornamentations. Not only the form Brahms chose, but also the actual theme, suggests the baroque period. The dynamism of the fourth movement comes from the insistent presence of this theme and from the ingenious variations constructed on it. Since the theme is only eight measures long, the careful listener can usually follow it. It is heard 31 times in a row, yet always in new guises, so that it never becomes tedious. This movement, in addition to being a tour de force of compositional technique, is unprecedented in a symphony. Many movements in earlier symphonies are cast in variation forms, but none has so short and simple a theme.

KEYNOTE.“Tragedy with unsurpassable variety of expression and power of climax.” “A funeral procession moving in silence across moonlit heights.” “Elegiac and meditative.” “Shadowy desolation and mystically supernatural atmosphere.” “Vigor and nobility that is indeed often heroic.” “The realms where joy and sorrow are hushed.” “Sturdy gaiety.” “Under the shadow of an inevitable fate.” “Boisterous and sportive.” “Quiet tragedy and uncanny merriment.” “Deeply earnest.” These are just some of the ways commentators have characterized the E Minor Symphony. The far-flung variety of these descriptions indicates not only the range of moods found in the symphony but also its elusive character. The Fourth is a deeply meaningful and profoundly expressive work, yet it is absolute music of the highest order. It is not really “about” anything that can be readily characterized verbally, and these quotations attest to the futility of trying to translate its rarefied world of tones into the concreteness of language. The emotions of the Fourth are there to be heard and experienced, whatever labels an individual might want to attach to them.

The symphony begins with a two-note motive, repeated and developed immediately and extensively. It almost seems as if the music had been playing already when we happened to tune in on it. In an early sketch Brahms had, in fact, preceded this opening with a brief introduction. Notice how the weak-strong rhythm of the two-note figure pervades the entire movement. The development section of this sonata form begins like a relaunching of the opening—a reference to procedures of the classical period, when composers generally indicated that exposition sections were to be repeated. Having begun the development like the opening, Brahms could hardly also start the recapitulation in the same manner. He disguises the return. Only in the fifth measure does the theme regain its original form.

In the second movement Brahms creates a subtle undercurrent of tension by a sophisticated compositional strategy. The listener may well not be aware of it consciously, but the effect is unmistakable. Tension is maintained by continually stating the opening horn theme in the “wrong” key or on the “wrong” degree of the scale. At the beginning, for example, the melody seems to suggest the key of C major, with an emphasis on the note E. But the movement is destined to be in E major, not C major. The clarinets and pizzicato violins take up the theme in the “correct” key of E, but emphasizing the note G-sharp. After a hint of G major, the theme is again stated in E with G-sharp emphasized. At long last, resolution is felt as the violins, playing bowed for the first time in the movement, state the theme (slightly disguised) in the key of E major and emphasizing the note E. To underline this sense of arrival, Brahms orchestrates sumptuously: oboe and bassoon commentary, violin and cello arpeggios, and horn and trumpet syncopations accompany the melody. Now that the theme has finally achieved the stability it has sought from the beginning, the music is free to move on to other matters. After an interlude the opening theme returns, sometimes in the “right” key and sometimes in a distant (e.g., B-flat major) “wrong” key. The movement ends quietly with a reminiscence of the opening, the melody still suggesting C major but the harmony firmly in E major. The tensions of the movement never reach full resolution.

The colorfully orchestrated third movement is the only true scherzo in all the Brahms symphonies. It is cast in C major, not unexpected after the hints of that key in the slow movement.

The theme of the finale is only eight notes long. For those who might like to follow this simple tune through its numerous variations, they are listed below. It is suggested that you not try to follow these transformations, however, unless you are already quite familiar with the movement. You could well miss the music while listening too carefully to the notes.

(1) The first series of variations begins with the exposition of the theme in full brass and woodwind chords. (2) The theme is played pizzicato in the violins, accompanied by the horns, trombones, timpani and other strings. (3) The theme is played pizzicato in the violas and cellos accompanying a flowing melody in the winds. (4) An ornamented version is played by the full orchestra, with the original version sounding in the violins, violas, trumpet and trombone. (5) The theme in low strings accompanies a new melody in the upper strings. (6) The theme, in pizzicato string basses and at the bottom of cello arpeggios, accompanies an elaborated version of the new melody from (5). (7) Continuation of (6), with the theme still in string basses (now bowed) and cello arpeggios. (8) The theme is in the string basses and bassoon arpeggios (in a dotted rhythm) against dotted-rhythm melodies in the upper and lower strings. (9) The theme is again in the string basses and cellos, accompanying sixteenth-note triplets; it is embedded within these figurations in the violas and cellos while it is also heard unadorned in the string basses. (10) The figurations speed up, becoming sixteenth-note triplets; the theme is embedded within these figurations in the violas and cellos while it is also heard unadorned in the string basses. (11) The theme is heard as the bass line of block chords that alternate between the strings and winds. (12) The theme is in the bass line (bassoons, cellos and violas), but it is also in the horn, accompanying a melody in the flutes and violins. (13) The theme starts to move twice as slowly (the time signature changes from 3/4 to 3/2) as the solo flute plays a lyrical melody derived from the theme. (14) The music changes from minor to major for the first time, as the theme becomes the basis of a dialogue among the winds. (15) The theme is the bass line of a chord progression in the low winds and brass. (16) The chord progression of (15) is repeated in an elaborated version.

(17) After a brief pause the music returns to minor and to 3/4 time for a recapitulation of the theme in its original chordal version, in the brass and winds, joined eventually by the strings. As this variation marks the midpoint of the movement, it initiates a second series of variations that loosely parallels the first. (18) The theme is heard tremolo in the cellos, while the upper strings also play tremolo in accompaniment to two-note figures in the winds, reminiscent of the first movement. (19) An elaborated version of the theme becomes the melody in the upper winds, accompanied by most of the orchestra. (20) A forceful ornamented version of the theme is played in eighth notes by the violins, alternating with the winds. (21) Continuation of (20) with further ornamentation of the theme. (22) A forceful treatment by the full orchestra, with the theme in the violins and flutes—the beginning notes of each rapidly ascending scale and the top notes of some of the staccato chords comprise the theme. (23) The theme is embedded within the bass line of a quiet, staccato version in the strings and winds. (24) The theme is stated powerfully in the horns, while the winds alternate triplet figures. (25) A forceful statement by the full orchestra, with the theme in the violins and upper winds. (26) The forceful statement continues with a countermelody in the oboes, bassoons, violins and violas, while the theme is heard in the upper trombones, trumpets and horns. (27) The theme is ornamented slightly in the horns, switching to the oboes, and is accompanied by a quiet string undulation. (28) The theme is embedded within an arpeggiated melody in the violas and cellos, accompanied by soft wind chords and pizzicato lower strings. (29) A wind melody is accompanied by upper string arpeggios that contain the theme and by lower strings playing pizzicato. (30) The full string section plays pizzicato arpeggios based on the theme, accompanying two-note figures in the winds. (31) The arpeggios (and hence the theme) are treated in canon by the nearly full orchestra. (32) A brief transition to the coda, which is faster. It starts with a forceful statement of the beginning of the theme, and it goes on to develop parts of the theme rather than varying the whole theme.

What is amazing about the finale is not only its strict adherence to one theme (sometimes prominent, sometimes buried in an accompanimental figure) but also the way in which Brahms continually creates variety. He achieves this variety while playing the same melody again and again, never even allowing himself the relief of a key change. The inexorable momentum built up in this manner makes the finale a powerful and unique listening experience (whether or not you choose to follow the transformations of the theme consciously) and a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary symphony—and to a series of four magnificent symphonies.

—Jonathan D. Kramer