The Violin Concerto of JOHANNES BRAHMS has a long pre-history.
It originates in the public houses and taverns, where young Brahms played the piano to support financially his education. On one such location Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi took notice of Brahms and was so strongly impressed by him that he offered him a job as his accompanist. In 1853 Reményi introduced him to another great violinist, Joseph Joachim – an encounter that proved fateful for Brahms. Joachim in his turn introduced Brahms to Liszt and Schumann. In 1860 Brahms was labeled a conservative and reactionary figure in music, in contrast to innovator and trail blazer Ferenc Liszt and his adherents. Sadly, at that time Brahms’ achievement was not recognized as a part from the process of music evolution. Brahms embedded the classical form in a new type of expression, early Romanticism – in “Wagnerian” harmonies and elevated the musical idiom a new, irreversible position.
Joachim, who remained a longtime friend of the composer for nearly twenty- five years, incited him with the idea to write a violin concerto. And when in 1878 the work was in a process of creation, Joachim contributed valuable ideas concerning the cadenza, the structure, and the technicalities of violin play. Following the example of his two piano concertos, Brahms envisaged a four movement cycle for his violin concerto as well, but on Joachim’s recommenda- tion replaced the two inner movements with a single one.
The premiere took place on 1 January 1879 in the performance of Joachim and under the direction of the com- poser. Despite the competent editorial intervention of the violinist, audiences remained lukewarm in their reception of the music not just on the premiere, but on subsequent performances as well. The public itself was not prepared to assimilate the complexity and the unusual duration of the Concerto – it was twice larger than the hitherto employed traditional size of the violin concerto. An astute critic even called it “a concert against the violin”. Virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate refused to play the work because, as he pointed out, he didn’t want to “stand on the rostrum, violin in hand and listen to the oboe playing the only tune in the adagio”.