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Double Up With Brahms' Double Concerto

Double Up With Brahms' Double Concerto

The Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor stands apart in the Brahms’ canon. It was his only double concerto, and his last work for orchestra.

It also figured centrally in his relationship with frequent collaborator Joseph Joachim, one of the leading violinists of his day. The two close friends became estranged after Brahms sided with the violinist’s wife in a divorce case. The Double Concerto’s violin part was written for Joachim in part as a gesture of reconciliation, and was first performed with Brahms conducting, Joachim as violin soloist and Robert Hausmann as cello soloist in October 1887.

The concerto employs the musical motif A-E-F, a permutation of F-A-E, which stands for frei aber einsam ("free but lonely"), a personal motto of Joachim’s.

There had been many other multi-instrument concertos written prior to this one—Beethoven’s Triple Concerto (performed by the ESO five seasons ago) and Mozart’s Sinfonie Concertante for Violin and Viola being two of the most famous—but rarely before a piece featuring violin and cello. Brahms utilizes the unusual combination to good effect, creating a kind of “super-instrument” that can range high and low across the musical landscape, as in the passage in measure 46 of the first movement, when the two instruments are first heard together.

Initial reception to the piece was mixed. Wrote Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, a good friend of Brahms, “Such a double concerto is like a drama with two heroes instead of one, two heroes who, laying claim to our equal sympathy and admiration, merely get in each other’s way.”

But later critics and audiences have thrilled to the concerto’s sumptuous melodies, exciting passagework and spectacular interaction between the soloists.

The ESO is privileged to feature as the soloists two audience favorites, cellist Wendy Warner and violinist Irina Muresanu, both of whom have appeared many times with the orchestra.