Brahms' First Symphony

Program Listing

Saturday, JUne 8, 2024, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, June 9, 2024, 2 PM
MONDAY, June 10, 2024, 7:30 PM

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Sponsored by

Heathman Hotel



David Danzmayr, Conductor
Carin Miller, Bassoon

Heitor Villa-Lobos

Ciranda das Sete Notas
Carin Miller

Gabriella Smith

Johannes Brahms
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Un poco sostenuto – Allegro
Andante sostenuto
Un poco allegretto e grazioso
March to the Scaffold: Allegretto non troppo
Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio


This performance is being recorded for broadcast on All Classical Radio.

The broadcast will air on July 11, 2024 at 7 PM on 89.9 FM in Portland, and worldwide at


Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Music Director David Danzmayr and Brandi Parisi, host of All Classical Radio.


Program Notes

Ciranda das Sete Notas, Bassoon Concerto (Round Dance for Seven Notes)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

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Heitor Villa-Lobos

Ciranda das Sete Notas, Bassoon Concerto (Round Dance for Seven Notes)

Work composed: 1933
First Oregon Symphony performance
: solo bassoon and string orchestra
Estimated duration: 12 minutes

Essentially a self-taught composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos both recognized and celebrated the extraordinary range of sounds, instruments, and styles he discovered in the gloriously diverse music of his native country. More than any Brazilian composer before or since, Villa-Lobos made these sounds, styles, and influences a fundamental component, not simply a colorful add-on, of Brazilian art music.

Villa-Lobos first became interested in writing for the bassoon after a visit to Paris, where he met several virtuoso players. Villa-Lobos was also influenced by the bassoon writing in Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which showcases the instrument’s highest notes.

A ciranda is a circle dance/game popular in Brazil, particularly in educational settings. Cirandas are used to build a sense of community and social equality, and are a fundamental component of Brazilian education, particularly for young children. Villa-Lobos composed his Ciranda das Sete Notas while working for the Brazilian government as a minister of national music education. The seven notes of the C major scale serve as the foundation of both melodies and harmonies. The soloist alternates between simple scalar passages and challenging virtuoso phrases that showcase the bassoon’s unique sound.


Gabriella Smith
b. 1991


Work composed: 2021
First Oregon Symphony performance
: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, bass drum, 2 suspended cymbals, glockenspiel, marimba, 3 resonant metal objects pitched in F, several metal objects with varying degrees of resonance, tala wands (or hot rods), vibraphone, and strings
Estimated duration: 30 minutes

Composer/environmentalist Gabriella Smith has made an international name for herself with music hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative.” Clive Paget, writing for Musical America, declares Smith possesses “the coolest, most exciting, most inventive new voice I’ve heard in ages.” Smith will join Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane and members of the Oregon Symphony to discuss her work in an Open Music concert on Wednesday, June 5, at the Alberta Rose Theater.

Smith originally planned to write the work as one large movement “because I like building big arcs,” but as the work proceeded, multiple movements emerged, including a final movement that references the scherzo from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. “I really like the Eroica and the energy of that movement,” Smith explains. “Mine takes the character of Beethoven’s scherzo and makes it even more manic; the music distorts and comes back to it constantly throughout.” 

Nods to Beethoven notwithstanding, the sound of this music is wholly Smith’s own. “I like the idea of constantly playing with references to older forms while also being new.” A decidedly “new” component of One is the list of unconventional percussion instruments Smith requires. In the score, she calls for “metal objects with varying degrees of resonance,” and encourages players to be creative. A suggested list includes metal mixing bowls, pots, pans, lids, cheese graters, metal water bottles, machine parts, or tin cans.

“This piece is about climate change and climate solutions, but I wanted to write something that was about getting excited about being involved in the climate movement and the climate solutions,” says Smith. “I wanted to bring the joy of environmentalism to the music, not the despair.” While Smith’s music is inspired by environmental concerns, it is not programmatic; there are no depictions of storms or floods or fires. “I write emotions rather than specific ideas in my music,” says Smith. Since the music evokes emotional states rather than specific images, each listener will experience the music differently. “Listening can be so personal; it becomes about the listener’s journey rather than the composer’s intent. I’d like people to take away the bigger concept, rather than a specific moment.”


Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

Work composed: Brahms began working on his first symphony in 1856 and returned to it periodically over the next 19 years. He wrote the bulk of the music between 1874 and 1876.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony on May 18-20, 2013, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings.
Estimated duration: 42 minutes

In 1853, Robert Schumann wrote a laudatory article about a 20-year-old composer from Hamburg named Johannes Brahms, whom, Schumann declared, was the heir to Beethoven’s musical legacy. At the time Schumann’s piece was published, Brahms had composed several chamber pieces and works for piano, but nothing for orchestra. The article brought Brahms to the attention of the musical world, but it also dropped a crushing weight of expectation onto his young shoulders. “I shall never write a symphony! You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven,” Brahms grumbled.

Brahms began composing the first movement of the Symphony No. 1 when he was 23, but he was handicapped by his lack of experience composing for an orchestra. Over the next 19 years, as he continued working on his first symphony, Brahms wrote several other orchestral works, including the 1868 German Requiem and his popular Variations on a Theme of Haydn. The enthusiastic response both works received bolstered Brahms’ confidence in his ability to handle orchestral writing. 23 years after Schumann’s article first appeared, Brahms premiered his Symphony No. 1 in C minor. It was worth the wait.

Brahms’ friend and critic, Eduard Hanslick, summed up the feelings of many: “Seldom, if ever, has the entire musical world awaited a composer’s first symphony with such tense anticipation … The new symphony is so earnest and complex, so utterly unconcerned with common effects, that it hardly lends itself to quick understanding … [but] even the layman will immediately recognize it as one of the most distinctive and magnificent works of the symphonic literature.”

Hanslick’s reference to the symphony’s complexity was a polite way of saying the music was too serious to appeal to the average listener, but Brahms was unconcerned; he was not trying to woo the public with pretty sounds. “My symphony is long and not exactly lovable,” he acknowledged, but it is Brahms’ most emotional and personal musical statement. The symphony is carefully crafted; one can hear Brahms’ compositional thought processes throughout, especially his decision to incorporate several overt references to Beethoven. The moody, portentous atmosphere of the first movement, the short thematic fragments from which Brahms spins out seemingly endless developments, are all hallmarks of Beethoven’s style, as is the choice of C minor, a key closely associated with several of Beethoven’s major works, such as his Symphony No. 5, Egmont Overture and Piano Concerto No. 3. And yet, despite all these deliberate references to Beethoven, this symphony is not, as conductor Hans von Bülow dubbed it, “Beethoven’s Tenth.” The voice is distinctly Brahms’, especially in the inner movements.

The tender, wistful Andante sostenuto contrasts the brooding power of the opening movement. Brahms weaves a series of dialogues among different sections of the orchestra and concludes with a duet for solo violin and horn. In the Allegretto Brahms relaxes Beethoven’s frantic scherzo tempos. The pace is relaxed, easy, featuring lilting themes for strings and woodwinds. In the finale, a strong, confident horn proclaims Brahms’ victory over the symphonic demons that may have beset him. Here Brahms also pays his most direct homage to Beethoven, with a majestic theme, first heard in the strings, that closely resembles the “Ode to Joy” melody from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When a listener remarked on this similarity, Brahms snapped, “Any jackass could see that!”


© Elizabeth Schwartz