To write symphonies of his own, Brahms waited to be out from under the imposing shadow of Beethoven. Of the four he composed when the time came—at the age of 44—the last two are pure and incomparable masterpieces.
Premiered in 1883 with great success, Symphony No.3 (called the ‘heroic’ for a time) radiates with energy and Olympian serenity, also reflecting the popular material for which the composer, despite his contemplative side, had an everlasting fondness. Richer yet, Symphony No.4 (1885) captures the quintessence of Brahms’s art: it has a sombre, melancholic power, with the gripping them at the start; the exaltation of an epic and legendary climax that would make (quite!) an impression on Dvořák—the combination of extreme refinement and organic contact with folkloric sources. The last movement—in tribute to Bach, the ‘father’—in the form of a Chaconne, is one of the most stunning demonstrations of compositional technique in the history of music.