What to Listen For:
This movement is in the old Baroque form of a passacaglia or chaconne.
Basically, that means it's a set of variations on a short, chordal theme.
In this case, the theme is 8-bars long and heard right away.
There are 30 variations, followed by a 59-bar coda. Listen for the way in which Brahms creates a rich variety of musical ideas above and around this simple theme.
Also, listen to how some variations seem to blend together to make larger units. For example:
* 4-6 become an extended waltz
* 8-9 are a matched set
* 12-15 are all twice as slow (like a slow movement within the movement)
* Note that #16 (exactly half-way through the 30 variations) acts like a sort of recap, as the theme is again in the original tempo and quite loud. 17-18 are unified by continuous string tremolos
* 19-20 go together, with 19 adding triplets
* 26-28 flow together as the last bit of calm
*Note that Variation #30 is extended by 4 bars to introduce the big:
CODA - in the coda, there's no longer the constant presence of the theme's structure, though the music still often falls into 8-bar phrases. The coda can be divided into 6 sections of the following measure lengths: 8-12-8-8-12-11
Performers: George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra