Johannes Brahms - photo: Friedrich König
The question «Aimez-vous Brahms?» – which Françoise Sagan chose as the title of her successful novel of 1959 – would be answered by most music lovers today with a decisive «Oui». Today’s concert life would be unthinkable without his orchestral works and symphonies, his chamber music and his vocal work Ein deutsches Requiem. Yet admiration and love of Brahms was not always a given, as it is today; during his lifetime, the composer was quite controversial. Prominent other composers – and even luminaries such as Tchaikovsky and Britten – are on record with decisive words of contempt. Schoenberg’s circle, however, considered Brahms a guiding star on the path to music that would draw its power and future viability only from itself.
With the exception of opera, Brahms created valid and lasting works of all genres, and throughout the 2022/23 season, a good dozen concerts at the Philharmonie invite listeners to a discovery, or re-discovery, of Brahms’ oeuvre. Artist in residence Sir John Eliot Gardiner will lead the Royal Concertge-bouw Orchestra in all four Brahms symphonies, demonstrating all of the many different expressive characters the symphonic form can assume in the hands of such a consummate master-composer. Gardiner also dedicates himself to Brahms’ smaller choral works with orchestral accompaniment, together with the Monteverdi Choir and the OPL. Anne-Sophie Mutter and Pablo Ferrández will champion Brahms’ relatively rarely-heard Double Concerto for Violin and Cello. Paavo Järvi demonstrates with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich how one of Brahms’ chamber music works was transformed by Arnold Schoenberg into an orchestral piece of «symphonic» heft. Those with a penchant for comparative listening can also experience the original version of the Piano Quartet at a «Concert-apéritif» in early October 2022. And Frank Peter Zimmermann joins Martin Helmchen in a profound survey of the sonatas of Brahms, the composer born in Hamburg who chose to live in Vienna.
Anyone still in need of arguments for learning to love Brahms might want to look up Françoise Sagan’s novel: there, attending a Brahms concert marks the turning point in the relationship between the prim Paule and her enthusiastic suitor, Simon. In this sense as in all others, Brahms can bring some «ro-mance» to all our lives.