Brahms: symphony number 4 in E minor, Op. 98

The South Birmingham Sinfonia will be performing this overture as part of the Summer 2016 concert.

The 4th symphony by Brahms is in E minor with the usual four movements, marked as follows.

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Andante moderato
  3. Allegro giocoso
  4. Allegro energico e passionato

The first movement starts with a serene lilting melody. The music is in sonata form and shows off Brahms' typical inventiveness and ability to create musical variations on a theme. Some commentators have remarked that the music is "powerfully organic and continuously unfolding" and others see a "fateful air" in its characteristic chain of descending thirds.

The second movement features a theme in the Hypophrygian mode, usually associated with Church music, which is heard unaccompanied at the beginning by the french horns.

The third movement is, unusally for Brahms' symphonies a true scherzo. Unusually for a scherzo it is in a slightly foreshortened sonata form with fugato passages and a slower "trio" in the development section.

The famous fourth movement is a pasacaglia, essentially a set of 32 variations on a ground bass, though the term "pasacaglia" is usually used to imply, as here, that the main theme can appear in higher parts too. Brahms' 8 bar theme is a particularly rich one with chromatic harmony including an augmented sixth chords, and with his usual invention Brahms ekes out every possible emotion from the range the theme offers.