Johannes Brahms died in Vienna on 3 April 1897, which means that centenary celebrations are already well underway throughout the classical music world. It all makes for a fitting testimony to Brahms's enduring popularity. Here in Britain, we have always seemed to have a soft spot for him, maybe because so much of his music seems poised on a knife-edge between joy and despair - "nobly moving" might abstractly describe it. But beyond the emotional weight, Brahms was a superb craftsman, and so many of his pieces demonstrate attention to both large-scale form and meticulous detail.
This month, the London Symphony Orchestra launches a retrospective comprising seven major concerts, taking in virtually all Brahms's orchestral output, plus a number of satellite chamber and song recitals. Throughout the series, the paradoxical nature of Brahms's character - he was both a progressive and a conservative - is in evidence. While he openly absorbed influences and past models, most notably from Bach and Beethoven, he also pushed music on towards challenging new frontiers.
Both works in this week's opening concert exemplify this. Anne-Sophie Mutter is the soloist in the searing and searching violin concerto, with its rugged and expansive first movement, translucent adagio and exuberant gypsy finale. And, following this, there is the grandiloquent 3rd Symphony of 1883, which begins and ends with the celebrated "FAF" motive, representing Brahms's dictum "Frei Aber Froh" (Free but Happy). Hans Richter, the LSO's first principal conductor, regarded the work as Brahms's Eroica, no less.
Edvard Grieg, writing three years after the master's death, summed him up in these words: "A landscape, torn by mists and clouds, in which I can see the ruins of old churches, as well as of Greek temples - that is Brahms."
EYE ON THE NEW The dynamic Hebrides Ensemble offers a varied retrospective of recent Scottish music, including Edward McGuire's Euphoria, Thomas Wilson's Concerto da Camera, John Bevan Baker's Eclogue and Sally Beamish's Songs and Blessings.
Stevenson Hall, Glasgow, 26 Jan at 3pm, and Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 28 Jan at 7.45pmReuse content