Johannes Brahms always had the ambition to compose a major symphony but lacked the self confidence to do so. He was extremely intimidated by Beethoven and his symphonies that he felt he could never compose something near as well so he put off writing one altogether. His first symphony was not completed until Brahms’ was 44 years old and had been working on his symphony for twenty years. Not only was Brahms’ intimidated by Beethoven, but he also admired Beethoven. He appreciated all of Beethoven’s Romantic innovations and used similar techniques throughout his career. Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 is characterized by his instrumentation, tempo changes, use of modulations, major-minor conflict, programming and emotion, which prove Brahms to be a true Romantic composer, like Beethoven.
One way Brahms proves to be writing a Romantic symphony as opposed to one based solely on Classical traditions, is his orchestration. While the instrumentation is mostly similar to a strictly written classical symphony involving two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings, Brahms also incorporated the contrabassoon and three trombones, which are both considered to be Romantic instruments. One of the first composers to use trombones in the symphony setting was Brahms’ mentor, Beethoven who used them in his later symphonies, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 9. While for Beethoven, the use of trombones was pushing the limits out of Classical music and into Romantic music, Brahms’ imitation of his instrumentation was becoming the standard instrumentation of the Romantic period.
Classical symphonies incorporated the use of fluctuation within the overall piece by having each movement set at different tempos. However, during the Romantic period the composers took it a step further and began varying the tempo within movements as well. Brahms demonstrates this well throughout his symphony, but one specific example of this characteristic is his fourth...
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