What a wonderful start: a fragmented melody like a hovering leaf blown up and down by the wind. Never has tenderness been composed more movingly. And what a magnificant ending of the same movement: extreme tenderness is matched by extreme drama which grows and grows to gigantic expression. Brahms is not restrained anymore in his last symphony.
After the fun and vitality of the third movement the final passacaglia is much more than a sequence of variations. We experience a huge range of dark emotions: from the lonely lamentation of the flute to the defiant, tragic ending. There is no room for the usual jubilation or the usual modulation to a major key. Brahms finishes his symphonic work with prophetic foreboding heralding Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).
‘When we played the Hungarian Dance no. 3 by Brahms I realised that I usually play this music, or its direct source, as the repertoire of a particular region of Transylvania known as Szék/Sic* csárdás. Szék/Sic is a Hungarian village in Transylvania; the csárdás, typical of this region, is played in the middle of a lengthy dancing scheme or suite lasting up to 40-50 minutes, besides various other csárdás melodies. Even today the people of Szék/Sic enjoy listening to this music during holidays and weekend gatherings; it consists mainly of folk songs, and the villagers like to sing along to them.’
István Kádár, violin
*‘Szék’ is the Hungarian and ‘Sic’ is the Rumanian name of the village.