Double concerto in A minor, op. 102

In the late 1880s, Brahms (1833-1897) was preoccupied with three aspects of composition: writing for orchestra, violin and cello. Between 1885 and 1887 he composed the Fourth Symphony (op. 98), the F major cello sonata (op. 99), the A major violin sonata (op.100) and the C minor trio for piano, violin and cello (op.101). It is as though these are all preparatory studies for the Double Concerto in A minor (op. 102): Brahms first lays the ground for testing the ultimate consequences of symphonic form, selecting the two instruments and testing them individually in a sonata with piano. In the final phase, under "laboratory conditions," he brings them together under the watchful supervision of the piano, before finally uniting them within a symphonic form.


Although we can see Brahms clearly gravitating towards a double concerto, according to the official version, the cellist Robert Hausmann commissioned the work and Brahms intended it primarily to heal the fracture in his friendship with the world famous Hungarian violinist József Joachim – with success. A few years earlier, Joachim suspected his wife Amalie of having an affair with the distinguished publisher, Fritz Simrock and his stormy jealous scenes finally capsized the already shaky marriage. Brahms, who was profoundly monogamous and who had nursed an unrequited love for Clara Schumann for virtually his entire life, had the profoundest empathy with his friend’s wife and wrote a long passionate letter in which he vouched for Amalie’s devotion, and also mentioned Joachim’s own rather difficult nature. During the divorce proceedings, Amalie used Brahms’s letter as proof of her innocence and Joachim was deeply hurt that his friend had not taken his side at this critical moment. Their friendship duly froze.


In the summer of 1887, Brahms wrote a letter to Joachim while he was composing the Double Concerto. "I would like to inform you of some news of an artistic nature and hope that it will interest you, to some degree." The artist in Joachim attained the upper hand over the offended friend, and he offered his technical advice as he had with the violin concerto: this time, by contrast, Joachim urged Brahms to increase the difficulties of the violin part. Once their professional relationship had been restored, their personal friendship resumed and this concerto played a major part. Among the themes of the opening movements, we find an allusion to a violin concerto by the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) which was one of Joachim’s favourite works, and the cello recitative at the beginning of the movement, to which the violin cordially replies, can be justifiably interpreted as Brahms symbolically extending a hand towards Joachim.

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