Johannes Brahms


Academic Festival Overture (1880)

Brahms composed only two concert overtures: the Tragic Overture op. 81, and the Academic Festival Overture, op. 80. Both were written in 1880. Brahms was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy by the University of Breslau (present-day Wrocław, Poland), and composed the Academic Festival Overture as a “thank you”. Ideally, the composer was expected to travel to Breslau to receive the award, but Brahms detested the public fanfare of celebrity and offered to compose a work as a gesture of gratitude. The conductor who had nominated him, Bernhard Scholz, told Brahms to “compose a fine symphony for us! But well orchestrated, old boy, not too uniformity thick!” The result was a sparkling work that Brahms characterized as “a very boisterous potpourri of student drinking songs à la Suppé”. As it turns out, the composer himself conducted the premier of the overture and received his honorary degree at a special convocation held by the University on January 4, 1881. The work has remained a staple of today’s concert-hall repertoire.