Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), German conductor and composer. De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti

Recommended Listening

Before we get into the historical background of Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, lets first listen to it.  Here are a few of my favorite YouTube recordings:

About the Music: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor

After becoming friends with Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann, Brahms began composing his Piano Concerto No.

1 in 1854, when Robert was institutionalized due to the complications of syphilis (delirium, pain, hallucinations, and attempted suicide). His first drafts of the piece were actually not a concerto at all, but rather a sonata for two pianos that he could play with Clara. As he worked on the score for a few months, he changed course, thinking the piece would work better as a symphony in four movements. Still with doubts, he ran his draft by his friend Julius Otto Grimm. After receiving Grimm's suggestions and incorporating them into the work, he then sent another draft (of the first movement) to his other friend, Joseph Joachim. Jochaim liked what Brahms had composed so far, but Brahms accused him of viewing his score through "rose-colored spectacles" since the two were very close. Brahms continued to write the second and third movements, but composed them for piano. Finally, by 1856, he was fully decided to make the piece a piano concerto, and with the help and suggestions of his friends, finished the piece in 1858.

In 1859, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 was his first orchestrated work to be performed. The few performances after its premier, the concerto received criticism for its harmonies and orchestrations. Today, many believe the score to be an emotional expression of what Brahms experienced during those four years - the loss of his good friend Robert Schumann, his intricate relationship with Robert's wife, Clara, and his nervousness in composing his first orchestral score (he greatly admired Beethoven and highly revered Beethoven's 9th Symphony - could he ever achieve such greatness?).

Now, over 150 years later, many believe it to be one of Brahms greatest triumphs. The Piano Concerto No. 1 remains one of Brahms most performed works.

Composer: Johannes Brahms

If you've already read my Johannes Brahms profile, you'll have a pretty good understanding of the composer's life, but just in case, here's a brief refresher for you. Brahms was an avid learner and would spend hours upon hours reading books. He studied mathematics, history, English, French, and Latin in private elementary and secondary schools, and took lessons in horn, cello, and piano. By the time he was a teenager, along with his compulsive reading, he developed a love for folklore including poems, tales, and music, and compiled a notebook of English folk songs. When Brahms began composing music of his own, he toured Northern Germany with a friend and made friendships and acquaintances with other composers including Joseph Joachim, Franz Liszt, Robert and Clara Schumann, Richard Wagner, and more. All of this enabled Brahms to develop a distinct style of music that he could perform all over Europe thanks to the many connections he made.