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Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 was – and still is – an undisputed masterwork. Audiences went wild for it; critics asked whether it could ever be equalled; and frankly, composers such as Brahms wondered whether they might as well pack up and head home. After all, how could anyone follow that?
Brahms’s chamber music output was prolific but when it came to composing a symphony, he struggled deeply. It took him nearly fifteen years to compose this, his Symphony No.1, with frequent revisions made to the score over that period. Even at its premiere, he remained sceptical about whether anyone would like it. So many versions had been torn up, edited and begun all over again. With that many changes to the original material, how could Brahms be sure that he had finally come up with something worth sharing?
This great composer had nothing to fear, though. Hans von Bülow (himself a composer, conductor and pianist, just like Brahms) famously described this work as ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’. No greater compliment could have possibly been paid. At the age of forty-three, Brahms had finally produced a symphony that both he and his public were happy with. Thankfully, they didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the arrival of another: he wrote the second the following year.
London Philharmonic Orchestra ; Vladimir Jurowski (conductor). lPO: lPO0043.
Illustration: Mark Millington