Engelsflügel 2013 | 10 mins
This concert could be said to begin and end with Johannes Brahms. Engelsflügel (Wings of Angels) is a later version of a piece originally written for wind band that grew from ideas Dean explored in a set of brief compositions paying homage to the personal life and piano music of Johannes Brahms. LISTEN FOR: Dean explains that Engelsflügel is “a short essay in mostly hushed, inward, even flighty textures . . . [that] took on a life of its own. . . . The music oscillates between secretive whispers, cascading wind arpeggios and austere, almost funereal brass chorales.” The concert version of this work receives its US premiere at these performances.
Symphony No. 102 1794 | 24 mins
In 1790, Haydn’s employer of nearly three decades, Prince Nicholas Esterházy, died. For the first time in a long while, Haydn was free to explore. Over the next five years Haydn completed two residencies in England, for which he consented to write a group of twelve symphonies (his Symphonies Nos. 93-104). The works—since dubbed the “London” or the “Salomon” symphonies—are enormously diverse, and the set as a whole represents the apex of Haydn’s symphonic achievement. Symphony No. 102 is one of the set’s finest, covering a broad emotional range that suggests witty Mozartian grace at one end and sober Beethovenian profundity at the other.
Piano Concerto No. 1 1858 | 41 mins
Conflict, they say, is the mother of art, and an artist who fails to encounter conflict has to invent it. Brahms did a little of both. In February 1854, the great composer Robert Schumann attempted to drown himself in the Rhine. He was rescued, declared mentally incompetent, and confined to an asylum, where he died two years later. Meanwhile, Brahms fell in love with Schumann’s wife, Clara. Imagine the guilt of being attracted to your friend/father figure’s wife while he lay sick in an asylum. Schumann’s death in 1856 closed a chapter in Brahms’s life, but turmoil continued. . . . Later that year Brahms became romantically involved with a young woman, Agathe von Siebold, and went so far as to wear an engagement ring before he came to his senses and realized just how terrified he was of commitment. This is all to say—Brahms’s D minor Piano Concerto was born in the immense turbulence of those years. LISTEN FOR: Its opening gestures are meant to disturb, a stark jab of sound dominated by timpani, followed immediately by string passages that seem to pull in different directions, as though struggling for air. The second movement is quietly impassioned; Brahms described this music as a lovely portrait of Clara. The finale is confident, music that wants to emerge into sunlight and that is able to breathe freely at last. Demons are conquered.
JEANETTE YU is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.