Brahms’ Horn Trio, Op. 40

Our concert coming up on Saturday 12 May, features music by composers depicting their relationships with their Mothers. We also welcome back French horn player Michael Wray as guest soloist performing the Brahms’ Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40. Michael has performed as Principal Horn with the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra in China and now regularly plays with the Australian Ballet and Opera Orchestra as well as other theatre productions. Michael also tutors French horn privately, with Sydney Youth Orchestra and the NSW Public School’s Arts Unit Ensembles.

The Trio for horn, violin and piano, Op. 40 was composed by Brahms in 1865 in dedication to his mother Christiane who passed away earlier in that year. Despite the fact that the valve horn was becoming increasingly popular at this time, Brahms wrote the score for natural horn. It is suspected he chose this instrument in tribute to his childhood memories of his mother – he also learnt the natural horn as a child. Indeed, he may have preferred the timbre of the natural horn for its sombre and melancholic qualities and its relation to hunting and nature.

There are two unusual features to the compositional structure of the trio. As a departure from the typical Classical style Brahms is known for, in this work he adopts a slow, fast, slow, fast order of movements, instead of the usual fast, slow, fast, fast. Brahms also abandons using sonata form for the first movement, preferring a simplified structure containing three slow sections interposed with two rhapsodic sections. It was said that, the opening theme to the first, Andante,movement came to Brahms on one of his many walks in the woods.

The theme of nature is recalled again with hunting calls used in the second, Scherzo Allegro,movement and final, Allegro con brio, movement. Both second and fourth movements, being livelier in tempo also suggests the lighter side of grief and of happier memories. The third movement, Adagio mesto, is the most solemn and contemplative movements of the work. Brahms quotes a popular German funeral chorale “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten”, used most notably in J.S Bach’s Cantata BWV 93. Brahms also used this theme in his German Requiem, composed between 1865 and 1868. The hymn is a song of consolation, dealing with trust in God. Although considered an agnostic, Brahms’ quotation of the popular hymn may not come from devotion but rather his own contemplation and heartfelt relief from mourning.

You can listen to this in the recording below of Daniel Barenboim (piano), Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Dale Clevenger (horn). Forward to 2.00′ to hear the sublime melody taken from “Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten”.


Songs My Mother Taught Me

When: Saturday 12thMay 2018, 6:00pm

Where: Christ Church Lavender Bay

Tickets: $30 Adults, $20 Concession, $10 Child – Available at or at the door

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One response to “Brahms’ Horn Trio, Op. 40

  1. Pingback: Brahms’ Horn Trio Op. 40 | sirius chamber ensemble

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