which means that you have easily available not only the tonic, D, but also the subdominant, G, and dominant, A. As a bonus, the E string is the dominant of the dominant. This is of great advantage in writing virtuoso figuration and polyphony. Great advantage to the player, that is! While you can play in any key on violin, some keys offer more possibilities with less effort. Guitar concertos tend to be written in keys like D, A and E major for the same reasons.
Brahms' model for this piece was the Beethoven Violin Concerto and it vies with it for length and seriousness. Brahms did not find an opening as brilliantly original as Beethoven's (which I talked about here), but he followed the Beethoven model (and the 18th century model in general) in giving the orchestra a substantial opening in which a number of themes appear before the entrance of the soloist. But he departs from the 18th century model as far as harmony goes. Schubert was one of the first to widen the scope of harmony so that both the major and minor modes were virtually interchangeable and this is Brahms' practice here. The opening for the orchestra simply outlines tonic harmony in D major (with the rich resonance of violas and cellos doubled by bassoons):
A nice eight-measure phrase ending with a half-cadence on V. This is followed by a phrase in C major and then this theme in the violins:
This is a strong statement in D minor, but is followed by a continuation returning to D major. This is telling the listener that the key of D is going to include both the major and minor versions. Before the solo violin enters there is another theme that even more strongly presents D minor by means of its viiº7:
Bear in mind the key signature is two sharps. Then, at measure 90, we finally have the solo violin with this cadenza-like phrase:
|Click to enlarge|
(Mind you, in the last measure he is tonicizing the dominant E.) The next important theme we hear is given to the solo violin and seems like a new one. This is a device used by Mozart: as the problem in concertos is that you have two expositions, one for the orchestra and one for the soloist, how do you make this interesting? What Mozart often did was give some entirely new theme(s) to the soloist.
This is the most distinct theme we have heard so far, the only one we are likely to go away humming and he has been saving it until now, measure 206! Though this theme is new, it also sounds awfully familiar (the mark of a great theme) and the reason is that Brahms has been preparing for it since the beginning. It is solidly in D major and has been set up in subtle ways. The outlining of the triads, plus the hemiola (turning two measures of 3/4 into one measure of 3/2), plus the arpeggio eighth-notes have all been heard before. This is a trick that Sibelius was very fond of. Each of his symphonies tends to have One Big Theme that he prepares you for from the beginning. For example the big theme of the last movement of the Symphony No. 5 we hear in a nascent form at the end of the first movement.
The development is shared pretty equally between the orchestra and the soloist, though she gets to introduce one new theme that is a variation on previous material:
The recapitulation starts at measure 381 and is as you would expect. Brahms did not write a cadenza for this concerto. Most soloists seem to play the one by Joachim, who consulted with Brahms on the violin writing and gave the premiere. He opened the concert with the Beethoven Violin Concerto!!
I won't say anything about the other movements as I think this is enough analysis for today. Let's listen to my favorite violinist Hilary Hahn, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra: