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Johannes Brahms has long held a special place in the hearts of classical music lovers.

Here is a composer who devoted his life fully to creating music, even foregoing romance and having a family for his art. He took his music seriously, agonizing endlessly over how a composer could achieve greatness in the shadow of Beethoven, whom he viewed as the greatest composer ever to live.

Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms, composer

The Academic Festival Overture is perhaps the best evidence we have of Brahms’ famous sense of humor. When the University of Breslau announced that it would be awarding him an honorary doctorate, Brahms was a bit surprised to learn that accepting this award meant he was expected to compose something for the university or risk looking ungrateful. To fulfill this unexpected social obligation, Brahms drew on his experience of college life and delivered a lively concert overture that was filled with student drinking songs that definitely would have been recognized by the audience at the work’s premiere.

Brahms’ Third Symphony may be the shortest of his four symphonies, but it is perhaps the most elegantly crafted. It is also one of his more personal works. The majestic opening chords — F, A-flat, F — likely are a grand statement of Brahms’ life motto, “Frei aber froh” (“Free but happy”). This motif appears in many of his most personal works. It has often been compared — starting with Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere — to Beethoven’s Third, the mighty Eroica.

Also Featuring a Late Work by Strauss

Richard Strauss’ Second Horn Concerto was composed while the German composer was living in Vienna during World War II. This concerto was written very quickly and was the first of a string of works written in an unexpected outpouring of creativity late in the composer’s life — he hadn’t written a substantial orchestral work in nearly 30 years! Composed in honor of his father, the concerto is more restrained and conservative than the dramatic music he had been composing for his operas. It has gone on to become the most-performed horn concerto of the 20th century, and on this concert, it will be performed by Jacob White, winner of the University of Redlands Concerto Competition.

Hornist Jacob White
Jacob White, horn

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