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Johannes Brahms's Academic Festival Overture

What better way to begin the Community Orchestra Academy's brand-new blog than with Johannes Brahms's Academic Festival Overture! This is a fun, exciting piece of music that we are sure you will enjoy. And, if you have not played it already, you probably will because it is one of the most popular pieces for orchestra!


Brahms was born on May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany. Later he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he worked as a composer, conductor, and pianist. (He learned how to play cello and horn, too.) As a composer, he wrote music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, solo voice, and choir. Among his friends were Clara Schumann, who was a famous pianist and composer, and Joseph Joachim, who was a violinist, composer, and conductor. In addition to composing and performing music, Brahms also loved to read books, especially novels, poetry, and folk tales.

Living in Vienna, Brahms appreciated the accomplishments of the famous Viennese composers who preceded him. He especially liked Ludwig van Beethoven's music. In fact, Brahms loved Beethoven and admired his music so much that he feared his music would not be as good as that of this giant of Viennese and European music. In fact, Brahms said that it took him twenty-one years to complete the first of his four symphonies.


In addition to these symphonies, Brahms wrote other music for orchestra. His Academic Festival Overture (called Akademische Festouvertüre in German), op. 80 is one of those pieces. He composed it during the summer of 1880 to honor the University of Breslau. This university awarded him an honorary doctorate in philosophy for Brahms's valuable contributions to music. The music for this overture is filled with tunes that the university students of the time would have known and liked. The overture is in one movement with four continuous sections: Allegro (C minor), Maestoso (C major), Animato (G major), and Maestoso (C major). It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, one tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings.


Brahms himself conducted the premiere of the overture at the university on January 4, 1881. The performance was part of a special convocation that was held in which Brahms officially received his doctorate. There was a bit of irony regarding this premiere with a decided contrast between the joviality of the songs Brahms used in the overture and the seriousness of this ceremony. The overture's easily understood structure and melodic ideas, along with its excitement and humor, make it a popular part of today's symphonic repertoire. A typical performance lasts around ten minutes.


Brahms enjoyed much success in his life as a composer and performer. He became so famous that he is now known as one of the 3 B's—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—of classical music.


To listen to a performance of Brahms's Academic Festival Overture, click here.

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