Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor

By Johannes Brahms
Composed in 1856

This concerto was Brahms’ first attempt at symphonic writing. He sketched the majority of the work in 1856. For a while it took the form of a two-piano sonata; then he orchestrated it, striving for a symphony. Finally, it was completed as a piano concerto, but one very different in nature from the piano concertos of its era.

Material from the symphony’s first and second movements was retained for the concerto; the last movement was replaced with an upbeat Rondo in Hungarian style. From the dramatic opening of the forceful theme to the rousing finale, the piano weaves in and out of the texture and becomes an integral part of the whole piece. In the slow Adagio, Brahms pays tribute to both Clara and Robert Schumann. In 1856, he wrote to Clara, “I am painting a lovely portrait of you. It is to be the Adagio.” The inscription on the original manuscript of this hymn-like movement is: “Benedictus qui venit in nominee Domini.” Aside from its religious connotations, it suggests a dedication to Robert Schumann, who had recently died, and whom Brahms referred to as “master” or Dominus.”