Johannes Brahms

Piano Concerto No. 2

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 45–50 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concerto
Time of Creation: 1878–1881
World Premiere: 09 November 1881 (Budapest)

Table of Contents

Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 in 5 Sentences

Brahms waited a long time to write his Piano Concerto No. 2, for his first piano concerto had been a tremendous flop. Brahms’ personal style of composing had already been considered too “radical” by some people at that time (read more about this in the presentation of Brahms’ fourth symphony). It is curious that the Piano Concerto No. 2, which Brahms published 22 years after the First Piano Concerto, became an immediate success, since Brahms had actually hardly changed his style. Perhaps it was simply because Brahms was now world famous. Considering its dimensions, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 is more like a “symphony with piano,” which Brahms himself also repeatedly commented on with humorous understatements (see, for example, the quote below).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2

Highlight 1: The soloist in focus

Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto is a special work because here all the threads come together with the soloist: The solo piano initiates, takes up, develops, interrupts and much more. This becomes clear right at the beginning – the solo horn introduction is answered by the piano and immediately developed further:

Highlight 2: monumental scherzo

A scherzo (and thus a fourth movement) was rather unusual in solo concertos until then. Even more unusual is that the scherzo in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 is so extensive, lasting almost 10 minutes. There is also a commentary on this by Brahms, who loved understatements: it is a “very small delicate scherzo:”

Highlight 3: More than one soloist

In the third movement, one might think one is listening to a new piece that is no longer a piano concerto. Suddenly, the solo cello takes center stage. The piano then joins it with another solo orchestral instrument, the clarinet:

Highlight 4: graceful ending

Brahms ends his Piano Concerto No. 2 with a graceful final movement, somewhat reminiscent of the Hungarian style. Brahms was a fan of this in the first place – there are Hungarian influences in his Clarinet Quintet, for example:

3 Questions and Answers about Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2

Question 1: Who played the first performance of Brahms' 2nd piano concerto?

At the premiere, Brahms played the piano part himself.

Question 2: How many piano concertos did Johannes Brahms write?

Johannes Brahms wrote two piano concertos. While the first piano concerto failed with the public, the second, written 22 years later, became a worldwide success.

Question 3: What is special about Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2?

Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 has several special features: First, it is unusually long, with a playing time of about 50 minutes. Second, it consists of four (instead of three) movements. Third, in addition to the piano, individual orchestral instruments also appear as soloists, for example the horn (1st movement) and the cello (3rd movement).

2 Recommended Recordings of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2

Recording 1: Igor Levit, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Alan Gilbert

Igor Levit, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Alan Gilbert manage the second movement of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with particular delicacy:

Recording 2: Jonathan Fournel, Belgian National Orchestra, Hugh Wolff

The next generation is also actively exploring Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto. The following recording with Jonathan Fournel at the piano was made as part of the 2021 Queen Elisabeth Competition:

1 Quote about Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2

A few little piano pieces.

Brahms' understated description of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in a letter to his friend Theodor Billroth

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