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Tragic Overture

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Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (trans. Joseph Kreines)

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This work bears the designation Opus 81.

General Info

Year: 1880 /
Duration: c. 13:30
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Aeolus Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $115.00


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

This is a highly valuable transcription of this epic overture which remains very faithful to the original. The beginning is marked by a pounding two-note exclamation (2/2, Allegro non troppo, D minor) signaling the tragic character. This is quickly contrasted by a subito piano section before the reoccurring bounce theme (dotted eighth sixteenth notes and eighth note sixteenth variances) is presented. Extreme shifts of fortissimo accented colors ensue with gleaming sonorities, unusual phrase entrances, and lingering expressive soli passages. A recapitulation of the opening measure gestures a new section that is lyrical and drapes repeating oboe solos. This is developed using extreme volume and color contrast as well as overlapping layers of phrases. It begins to build chromatically until a release is interjected but this time using the double dotted quarter and sixteenth note.

A very marcato section follows using similar rhythms, contrapuntal textures, accents and many shifts of tonality until energy completely stops as signaled by the two-note theme. This is contrasted by a soft, lyrical section that precedes a return to the repeated rhythmic and marcato material (dolce), which is now in 4/4. Exchanges of tonal centers and meter follow, which include similar contrasts of marcato and lyrical statements, short interjections of previously presented material. Rich soli brass sections are grouped with woodwind suspensions that build into a satisfying release into the swelling and fading woodwind choirs. A chromatic transition into F major follows again using the unison rhythm as its catalysis. This is fully developed using eighth note staccato patterns and eventually contrasted legato fragments using triple accompaniment figures (un poco sostenuto). This becomes very quiet and thin until a subito statement (in time) brings the work to a domineering close in D minor.

- Program Note from Music for Concert Band

The Tragic Overture, Op. 81, is a concert overture for orchestra written by Johannes Brahms during the summer of 1880. It premiered, under Hans Richter, on 26 December 1880 in Vienna. Eight days later, it was repeated at the University of Breslau on a program with the premiere of the Academic Festival Overture.

Brahms chose the title "tragic" to emphasize the turbulent, tormented character of the piece, in essence a free-standing symphonic movement, in contrast to the mirthful ebullience of a companion piece he wrote the same year, the Academic Festival Overture. Despite its name, the Tragic Overture does not follow any specific dramatic program. Brahms summed up the effective difference in character between the two overtures when he declared "one laughs while the other cries."

- Program Note from Wikipedia


None discovered thus far.

State Ratings

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Works for Winds by this Composer

Adaptable Music

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  • Krienes, J.; Hansbrough, R. (2014). Music for Concert Band: A Selective Annotated Guide to Band Literature. Meredith Music Publications: Delray Beach, Fla.; pp. 92.
  • Tragic Overture (Brahms). Wikipedia. Accessed 6 September 2022