SASO performs the mighty Brahms First February 15-16

Linus Lerner with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will perform Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor this month. Danzon No. 2 by Arturo Marquez, a Cuban-Mexican rhythmic romp, will open the concert. Following will be the dramatic cello exposition Schelomo. This work in three segments is in reality a one-movement cello concerto based upon Hebrew musical ideas and history.

Soloist will be SASO’s talented principal cellist, Zoran Stilin. A native of Zagreb, Croatia, he was a prize winner at an early age in the former Yugoslavia National Cello Competition. He also was soloist with the Zagreb Philharmonic, Radio-Television, Music Academy and Gaudemus orchestras. He continued his cello mastery in Switzerland and earned a master’s in music studying with Gordon Epperson and Peter Rejto at the University of Arizona. In addition to his performing with SASO and the Tucson Symphony, he is active in various chamber ensembles.

Stilin later studied with the German violin maker Karl Roy, an eminent world authority on violin construction. As a string instrument and bow maker, Zoran has won top awards from the Violin Makers Association of Arizona in world competition. He is widely recognized as a high-quality string repair technician. He will be performing on his most recently constructed violoncello, soloing in Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo.

I am a bit hesitant in trying to discuss Brahms’s First Symphony as it is such a dramatic-powerful-difficult work and how to cover it in a short essay. I’m sure I will feel the same way in writing about Beethoven’s Ninth for the season’s finale. Brahms procrastinated for years in failing to start work on a symphony, as he wondered how he could  compete with symphonies 3-5-7-9 of Beethoven. He composed six major orchestra works prior to his First Symphony. An interesting side issue is that he composed only 14 major orchestra works against 148 for soloists, voice and small ensembles. Little by little Brahms became involved with the work, and by 1862 mvt. I was complete; interestingly, he composed the introduction after the main body. The entire work was completed in 1876-77. So to look at the Brahms First, let’s go!

Brahms opens both the first and last movements with a slow introduction that establishes what is to follow. In his first movement there is a riveting-dramatic struggle to establish the key of C, where mainly tonic and dominant, C and G, compete over the first 37 measures. Timpani, by playing a strong and steady C for 51 strokes, forces C to be accepted as the home key, but the rest of the introduction establishes C minor. The sonata-form movement is consistently in 6/8 time, and following the ponderous introduction, the music is lighter, similar to a scherzo. The closing coda is slower and creates a quiet ending.

Because the first movement is not a massive, serious work, Brahms makes the second movement the slow one. Marked “slow and sustained,” it is in E major and features solo violin. The time is 3/4 and the form is ABA. Like the first and last movements, there is much counterpoint and numerous key changes. You would expect mvt. III to be a scherzo, but it is instead two dance creations in ABA form and is in 3/4, 6/8, 3/4 time.

Everything presented so far leads to an expected big final movement, which is what Brahms provides. The slow introduction is much longer and more detailed than in mvt. I. It opens very slowly with a huge swell followed by string pizzicato that speeds up and repeats. Then comes a middle section that is off the beat. A chorale led by French horn ends the introduction. Now the famous big tune of the symphony is presented in C minor, and vast development takes place in sonata form leading to a coda in C major in cut (2/2) time for a tremendous and glorious orchestral ending.

The most famous conductor/critic of the time, Hans von Bülow, stated that the Brahms First was Beethoven’s 10th.

This concert will be performed on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the DesertView Performing Arts Center in SaddleBrooke, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16 in northwest Tucson at Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

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