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Piano Concerto No. 2 (Brahms)

The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Johannes Brahms is separated by a gap of 22 years from his Piano Concerto No. 1. Brahms began work on it in 1878 and completed the piece in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna.

Unlike most concertos, which are in three movements, this piece is in four:

  1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Allegro appassionato
  3. Andante
  4. Allegretto grazioso

The four movement form, together with the length of the work (a typical performance lasting around 50 minutes), means the concerto is close to being a symphony with piano solo. The concerto was one of the longest, if not the longest, ever written at that time.

Despite its ambitious scale, when Brahms sent a copy of the completed score to his friend, the surgeon and violinist Theodore Billroth (to whom Brahms had dedicated his first two string quartets), he described the concerto as "some little piano pieces". Brahms was rather fond of mis-describing his music in this way - in a letter to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, he called the second movement of this work a "tiny whisp of a scherzo", when it is in fact ten minutes long and very dramatic; similarly, he had written to his publisher of the generally cheerful Symphony No. 2 (1877) "the score is so sad you won't be able to bear it", also saying the sheet music should be printed with a funeral black border.

The piece was given its public premiere in Budapest on November 9, 1881 with Brhams himself playing the solo part. Unlike the Piano Concerto No. 1, which was rather cooly received, the Piano Concerto No. 2 was a great success, and Brahms went on to play the piece in a number of successful concerts in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, some conducted by Hans von Bülow.

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