Insight

Johannes Brahms in Rome

Johannes Brahms in Rome

At the end of the nineteenth century the academicians Giovanni Sgambati – pianist – and Ettore Pinelli – violinist and conductor – sought to spread awareness in Roman cultural circles of symphonic and chamber music by foreign, especially German, composers. In particular Pinelli founded and conducted the Società Orchestrale Romana, which would later be the first nucleus of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, and which between 1874 and 1898 introduced the Roman public to some of Brahms's greatest symphonic compositions: 1882 saw the first performance in Rome of one of his works, the second symphony Op. 73.
Knowledge of the works of Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms was also encouraged by Adolf Berwin, a German musician and musicologist who was the first director of the Library of the Accademia, and who together with Sgambati proposed the Hamburg composer for nomination as a distinguished member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, a nomination which occurred on 27 April 1878. But on that occasion Berwin himself, in a long article in the journal “La Palestra Musicale” spoke of Brahms as “a talented composer in whom, however, doctrine gets the better of inspiration" and that “compared with Beethoven and Schumann he does not enchant or arouse enthusiasm like those two giants", thus making himself the mouthpiece of an opinion probably shared by the Roman public. Pinelli waited ten years before reintroducing the symphony to the Roman public, and did not exert himself much further in exploring Brahms's symphonic music, apart from a single performance, in January 1898, of the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 – already transcribed for wind ensemble by Alessandro Vessella in 1892 – no other symphonic work by Brahms was performed in Rome in the nineteenth century. The Academic Festival Overture itself had, however, had a first performance at the Sala Umberto, on 29 February 1896, by the Nuova Società Musicale Romana, founded by Giovanni Sgambati, who in April 1897 offered the Roman public another novelty from Brahms's symphonic repertoire, the Tragic Overture Op. 81. It was, however, the music of Brahms that had the honour of closing the century in the Santa Cecilia concerts with the first Italian performance of one of his most ambitious compositions, the German Requiem, in a memorable version at the Sala Accademica. The performers were Lillian Blauvelt and Antonio Cotogni, under the direction of Raffaele Terziani and with Remigio Renzi at the organ. The première, which took place on 27 March 1899, was followed by two non-subscription repeat performances, an unequivocal sign of a well consolidated heritage which the century that was about to close left to the one to come.

 

Documents from the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Photogallery

 

By Antonio Pappano and Giovanni Bietti

Watch the listening guide for the concert of December 17

Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia e TIM presentano PappanoinWeb