Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98

Brahms spent the summer of 1885 in Mürzzuschlag, during which time he created one of his most majestic compositions, his Fourth, crowning all of his symphonies. However, it did not always enjoy the popularity it does today. In its time even Brahms’s closest friends failed to understand it. Max Kalbeck believed the work lacked unity, his suggested remedy being to omit the two last movements (and compose new ones instead), and Eduard Hanslick is alleged to have exclaimed, while listening to the opening movement, ‘For this whole movement I had the feeling that I was being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people.’ Brahms, however, was unwilling to make any changes and his decision was justified by the immense success of the Meiningen premiere. Critics analysing the work believe that Brahms’s insistence on leaving the work unchanged was more than just a rational decision. His obstinacy is thought to have been motivated by the confessional character of the symphony. The series of thirds in the first bars of the opening movement would reappear in his Four Serious Songs with the text ‘O Tod, o Tod’; the famous bass progression in the finale is related to the following line in J. S. Bach’s cantata no. 150: ‘My days spent in sorrow / God ends nevertheless with joy’.