Recording of Brahms Op. 40
Anthony Millner, horn
Chanda VanderHart, piano[grandmusic playlist=brahmstrioop40]
Music score is public domain and available from IMSPL[/one_half_last]
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The Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms is a chamber piece in four movements written for natural horn, violin, and piano. Composed in 1865, the work commemorates the death of Brahms’ mother, Christiane, earlier that year. The work was first performed in Zurich on November 28, 1865, and was published a year later in November 1866. The Horn Trio was the last chamber piece Brahms wrote for the next eight years.
Brahms chose to write the work for natural horn rather than valve horn despite the fact that the valve horn was becoming more common. The timbre of the natural horn is more somber and melancholic than the valve horn and creates a much different mood. Nineteenth century listeners associated the sound of the natural horn with nature and the calls of the hunt. Fittingly, Brahms once said that the opening theme of the first movement came to him while he was walking through the woods. Brahms also learned natural horn (as well as piano and cello) as a child, which may be another reason why he chose to write for these instruments following the death of his mother.
The work is divided into four movements:
- I. Andante
- II. Scherzo (Allegro)
- III. Adagio mesto
- IV. Allegro con brio
In the first movement, Brahms emphasizes the simplicity of the opening theme by abandoning the structure of sonata form. Instead, he introduces three slow sections offset by two shorter, more rhapsodic segments. Brahms deviates from the classical style of opening a work with a fast movement and continuing with a slow movement, a scherzo, and closing with a lively finale; instead, he uses the church sonata form from the early Baroque and orders the movements slow-fast-slow-fast.
The Scherzo represents a lighter side of grief. Since the work as a whole simulates the stages of mourning, the Scherzo serves as the reminder of happy memories. As in the first movement, Brahms uses the pitches of the E-flat overtone series to establish the theme. (This theme is found in some variation in every movement, most directly in the Finale.) The playfulness that the tempo suggests offers a break from the slow and somber surrounding movements.
The Adagio mesto opens with four measures of solo piano in the low register of the instrument; this sets up the solemn, contemplative mood of the movement that is emphasized by the entrance of the violin and horn. The Adagio from the Horn Trio is said to be one of Brahms’ most impassioned and heartfelt slow movements.
The Finale contains the main theme that is present in the previous three movements, but it is prominently displayed in E-flat major in a lively tempo. The joy felt in the Finale symbolizes the recovery at the end of mourning.
Photos: Mitch Ranger