What makes Brahms' Fourth Symphony so appealing?

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Receiving its premiere in Germany in 1885 under the direction of the composer himself, Brahms’ fourth and final symphony is now a staple in the classical repertory.

This week, the Orchestra will perform the Symphony under the direction of conductor Christoph König. We explore what makes this work so appealing ahead of these performances.


Brahms’ Third Symphony had been an unqualified success, and so when, in 1885, a group of his trusted friends sat down to listen to a play-through of the Fourth, they were no doubt expecting to be able to heap praise upon the composer once again. But in fact what greeted the composer after the final notes was a baffled silence.

But what was it that had this effect on the listeners? As UK journalist for the Guardian, Tom Service, puts it: ‘That less-than-straightforward gestation seems hard to believe nowadays, when Brahms’ Fourth Symphony is [recognised by the] comfortingly familiar melodies and melancholy, its promise of satisfying symphonic coherence, and its apparently easy appeal to musicians, conductors and audiences.’

Service examines what makes this symphony eternally fascinating and appealing to listeners in his Symphony Guide, a useful guide for audiences ahead of the MSO’s performances of this iconic work.

Read The Guardian’s Symphony Guide

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs Brahms’ Fourth Symphony on 27 May in Geelong and 28 May at Hamer Hall.