Brahms – Academic Festival Overture Op. 80

Academic Festival Overture Op. 80 (1880)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1896)

Brahms had a happy childhood in Hamburg, receiving a solid musical education, although not attending university.  Thus it was a considerable honour to be offered an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1877.  However, not desiring to travel across salt water in order to receive the degree, Brahms turned it down.  Two years later, the University of Breslau, in a notable display of one-upmanship, offered Brahms the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The Latin citation acknowledged Brahms to be “Now the leader in Germany of music of the more severe order”.  Brahms accepted with a postcard, but more was required.  As befits a musical prodigy who had played the bordellos of Hamburg by the age of thirteen, Brahms responded instead with a skilful setting of four well-known student drinking songs!  The last is the most famous – Gaudeamus Igatur.  More a mini-symphony than a mere overture, the Academic Festival Overture is a fine example of Brahms’ masterful techniques of orchestration, counterpoint and thematic manipulation.

Performed: 17/8/2014, 23/8/2014

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