Johannes Brahms' Second Symphony is often seen as his "Pastoral", a sunny piece written in a happy summer at the Wörthersee. But underneath the surface, there is subtext of pain and unfulfilled love, as shown by two of his own songs that are quoted in the piece.
The first is the second theme of the first movement of Brahms 2, which is a version of the "Wiegenlied" op. 49/4.
"Guten Abend, gut Nacht" is dedicated and written for the birth of the second child of Bertha Faber. But the "Wiegenlied" is not just a lullaby, but also a hidden declaration of love to Bertha. Brahms met her in 1859, before she was married, and fell in love with the young girl. Here is the story (including some other facts about Brahms, brothels and his parents) as told by Tom Allen and the canadians at CBC.
Then, in the end of the first movement, he quotes another song (in the woodwind) that speaks about unattainable love: "Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze" op. 71/1, written just before the Second Symphony.
The text of this song by Heinrich Heine is about a shepherdess who sits at a river weaving wreaths. She sees a horseman riding by, they greet each other. But he rides away into the distance and she is left alone, weeping, and throws her wreaths in to the river.
Die Wellen blinken und fließen dahin, Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze! Am Flusse sitzet die Schäferin Und windet die zärtlichsten Kränze. Das knospet und quillt und duftet und blüht es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze! Die Schäferin seufzt aus tiefer Brust »Wem geb' ich meine Kränze?« Ein Reiter reitet den Fluß entlang, er grüßet so blühenden Mutes, die Schäferin schaut ihm nach so bang, fern flattert die Feder des Hutes. Sie weint und wirft in den gleitenden Fluß die schönen Blumenkränze. Die Nachtigall singt von Lieb' und Kuß, es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze!
Love, longing and the song of the Nightingale (in the sense of Heinrich Heine) are part of the "dark wings" which Brahms wrote about to Vinzenz Lachner. And these dark wings are also present in the Second Symphony, which is a much more personal piece than the First. Even though it was written under a bright summer sky in 1877, he could still not get rid of the clouds inside himself.
We play Brahms 2nd symphony this Friday and Sunday with the Orquestra Sinfonica do Porto Casa da Musica at Casa da Musica in Porto.