Brahms – Symphony No. 1 in C Minor Op. 68 – Music | History
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, is a symphony written by Johannes Brahms. Brahms spent at least fourteen years completing this work, whose sketches date from 1854. Brahms himself declared that the symphony, from sketches to finishing touches, took 21 years, from 1855 to 1876. The premiere of this symphony, conducted by the composer’s friend Felix Otto Dessoff, occurred on 4 November 1876, in Karlsruhe, then in the Grand Duchy of Baden. A typical performance lasts between 45 and 50 minutes.
Brahms began composing a D minor symphony in 1854, but this work underwent radical change before much of it was finally recast as his first Piano Concerto, also in D minor. The long gestation of the C minor Symphony which would eventually be his first, may be attributed to two factors. First, Brahms’s self-critical fastidiousness led him to destroy many of his early works. Second, there was an expectation from Brahms’s friends and the public that he would continue “Beethoven’s inheritance” and produce a symphony of commensurate dignity and intellectual scope – an expectation that Brahms felt he could not fulfill easily in view of the monumental reputation of Beethoven.
It was probably 1868 when Brahms finally realized what would become the final structure of his first Symphony. In September of that year, he sent a card to his lifelong friend Clara Schumann sketching the Alphorn tune which would emerge in the symphony’s Finale, along with the famous message “Thus blew the shepherd’s horn today!” Despite the evidence of the work’s development, the symphony would not premiere for eight more years, in 1876.
Fritz Simrock, Brahms’s friend and publisher, did not receive the score until after the work had been performed in three cities – and Brahms still wished trial performances in at least three more.
The manuscript to the first movement apparently does not survive, yet the remainder has been reproduced in miniature facsimile by Dover Publications. The autograph manuscript of the second, third, and fourth movements is held by the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.