Featured on our first concert of the 2018-19 season are violinist Julieta Mihai and cellist Moises Molina, both faculty members at Western Illinois University. The concert will take place on Saturday, September 22, at 7:30pm at Sterling High School. See our Tickets page for information, including our new Student Sponsorship program. There will be a bus running from Clinton/Fulton/Morrison to Sterling, call 563-219-8084 to make reservations.
Our guest soloists will be performing the Brahm’s Double Concerto with the Clinton Symphony. Please enjoy these program notes written by William Driver about this piece.
Concerto for Violin and Cello
The Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102, (Double Concerto) was the last orchestral work Brahms completed, and it followed his Symphony No. 4 in E minor by two years. The concerto displays the same warm, autumnal qualities that characterized much of Brahms’ late music output. What it lacks in pure dynamic flair, however, it more than atones for with its long-lined Romantic lyricism, particularly evident in the andante second movement.
The Double Concerto began life as a potential fifth symphony, but Brahms, to fulfill a promise to his friend the noted German cellist, Robert Hausmann, turned his notes into a cello concerto. Hausmann was a member of the Joachim Quartet, founded by the same Joseph Joachim who had premiered the Brahms Violin Concerto and who was a fervent champion of the composer’s music. The question arises, however, how did a cello concerto turn into a concerto for violin and cello? As with other Brahms works, there is a story of interest behind the concerto’s composition.
The Joachims, husband and wife, were both good friends with Brahms, and he cared dearly for each of them. After two decades of marriage, the Joachims came to a parting of the ways. Joseph became convinced his wife, the well-known soprano Amalie Weiss Joachim, was having an affair with music publisher Fritz Simrock. During the divorce proceedings, Amalie produced a letter to her from Brahms in which he took her side in the dispute. Joseph did not take kindly to what he considered the composer’s betrayal of their friendship. Once the Joachims’ divorce became final in 1883, Joseph refused to socialize or communicate with Brahms; but he did continue to premiere and advocate for Brahms’ music.
In the course of the composing process, Brahms came to fear that Joachim might take further offense if he wrote a concerto for the cellist of Joachim’s quartet instead of a new violin concerto for Joachim himself. As a peace offering to Joachim, Brahms added the violin—several critics suspect by simply taking some of the cello parts and reworking them for the violin—to come to the form we have today. Brahms’ ploy worked, for the two men resumed their friendship, though not with the intensity it once had.
A concerto for more than one solo instrument was unusual for the late nineteenth century Romantic school of composition. But it was not without precedent. The Baroque period was the age of the concerto grosso and works with various and sundry instrumentation. The Classical era saw a decline in this kind of concerto, but even here Haydn and Mozart had each composed a Sinfonia Concertante, and the master Beethoven himself had written a Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major. Even Felix Mendelssohn, a classicist among early Romantic composers, had penned a concerto for piano and violin. Of his contemporaries, Max Bruch, a friend of both Brahms and Joachim, had composed a double concerto for the unusual combination of clarinet and viola. Still Brahms had ventured onto a little traveled path.
Brahms expended a great deal of effort on the concerto, before the three men, Hausmann, Joachim, and Brahms, met in Baden-Baden at the home of Clara Schumann in September 1887 to play through the score. A run-through was scheduled with the local orchestra, and the premiere took place under the direction of the composer in November the same year in Cologne. The response to the work was cool at best. One of Brahms’ friends referenced the piece as “a really senile production,” while the conductor of its American premiere in 1889 could say only it was “not the most catchy thing imaginable.” Few admired the work with the sincerity of Joseph Joachim, to whom Brahms, in appreciation, gave the manuscript score with the notation “to him for whom it was written.”
The Double Concerto is truly symphonic, the score dominated by the orchestra with distinct sections for the solo instruments. In many respects, the interplay between the orchestra and the soloists is a contrast in Brahmsian styles with the orchestral fullness of his last symphony playing off against the more intimate nature of his late chamber pieces—in a sense two genres colliding and meshing to form a new whole. The cello is the lead solo, but the writing for both instruments is quite extraordinary and difficult, but with fewer of the fireworks that one finds in Brahms’ other three concertos. In fact, the solos are so closely related in tonal values that Brahms himself jokingly referred to the work as a Concerto for Giant Fiddle.
Stay tuned for further program notes for our fall concert, Unbridled Brilliance.