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I'm not completely satisfied with the answers so far, so more answers please! There's a nice bounty to be had!

These two titanic concertos are two of the most difficult often played concertos in piano literature, so they are talked about a lot. In most discussions, forums, or interviews with pianists I've seen, many pianists really love both.

In Alexis Weissenberg's commentary on the Rach 3, he writes "the Rachmaninoff Third has kept, and will keep forever and without the slightest doubt, a place apart in my heart. I still think it is the most gloriously written concerto for the piano." Most everybody calls it the hardest concerto that is performed often (perhaps due to the movie Shine), and a ton of people love, admire and respect (and fear) it.

Almost everything I've read about the Brahms 2 describes it as a very mature and grand work, requiring only the best and most mature musical interpretations. On the other hand, I've never seen the Rach 3 described as mature; glorious, saccharine, passionate, beautiful yes, but never mature. A lot of pianists seem to enjoy performing Rach's works, but they too will say that it's just "excessive climaxes" or something like that.

Why, in these two very technically difficult, powerful, popular, and dare I say similar works, is there such an unanimous opinion people think that Brahms's concerto is mature and musical while Rachmaninoff's is less mature, "frivolous", “schmaltzy”, or "film score - esque"? Given that this opinion is so prevalent, is there something inherent about maturity in music that is objective and not subjective? Should maturity be something that music should strive for?

(This question isn’t limited to these two composers; late Beethoven is almost always described as extremely profound or transcendental, but rarely (if ever) Rachmaninoff or Liszt)

~~ I know this is a subjective question, but I hope that I've asked it well enough that it is a more constructive subjective question, which is allowed by site rules.

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    Interesting question. One answer might be found in music history: thanks to music critics like Eduard Hanslick, Brahms had a reputation of being the height of refined (and perhaps "mature") music, and perhaps this sentiment has extended to the present. The absolute music debate may also be rearing its head here. – Richard Dec 6 '18 at 0:25
  • You cannot hope to find an objective comparison of these two works based solely on their content. The mere fact that Brahms was 12 years older than Rach at the time of composition, and that it was published 28 years earlier, will inevitably influence people's judgement of their merit, and is impossible to disentangle from their perception of the relative merits. – Kilian Foth Dec 6 '18 at 11:09
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    I'm really looking forward to reading answers. Is it reasonable & correct to interpret this question as asking: for those who perceive Brahms 2 more mature than Rach 3 (a consensus), what is the basis/evidence/reason for their view? – jdjazz Dec 6 '18 at 22:38
  • @jdjazz yes, basically – D.R. Dec 7 '18 at 0:57
  • @jdjazz it seems like there are currently not that many answers, or views. Do you think this question is worth a bounty? – D.R. Dec 8 '18 at 21:51
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+25

Thanks for an interesting question.

The music of Beethoven and Brahms are described as much by their biographies as by the music itself. I think of Brahms 2 as valedictory, especially when one compares it to the torturous path followed by his first piano concerto. It is definitely a mature work but I think the context it fits into in Brahm's life and work makes mature just that much more apt a description. The words triumphant or mature just naturally seem to lend themselves to Brahms the person as much as to any of his creations.

Beethoven is an almost mythological personage with an epic backstory. The late string quartets are so unusual that the usual adjectives don't really apply; combine this with the totally soundless environment of their creator and you get adjectives like otherworldly.

Rachmaninoff, on the other hand, doesn't have nearly this much emotion wrapped up in his biography. The fact that he created a lot of his finest works for his own concerts can, under a certain light, come off as rather businesslike. I don't think his works have the depth of emotion to begin with and combine that with a lack of backstory drama, he suffers by comparison with a Brahms or a Beethoven. Its almost like he was there to sell concert tickets and the more bang and wow and flash the better his returns, bang/wow/flash not being totally consistent with beauty and artfulness. I don't know enough about Rachmaninoff's bio or his music but I'd guess that his work wasn't of such depth that you can say it matured as he went along.

You mention Liszt and that's an odd one. His best works are as full of beauty and emotion as anything in, say, Chopin. But whereas nearly everything of Chopin's rather smallish output is a gem, Liszt suffers because of the substantial volume of works he produced. Many of his works, like Rachmaninoff's, were simply commercial ventures designed to wow his recital audiences. And Liszt himself, at least in the popular mind, was a successful and somewhat spoiled artist-ocrat, something that no doubt enters into his image today. And as far as maturing, Liszt's later piano work was almost experimental and not well understood.

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    I think many would disagree with the claim that Rach didn’t have as much of a emotive backstory; it was the a poorly conducted premiere of his 1st Symphony that led to a 3 year long depression where he refused to write anything. It haunted the rest of his life, leading him to rewrite or cut many of his major works (symphony 2, 4th piano concerto, sonata 2, etc). You do raise an interesting point about showiness. Both Rach and Liszt were considered one of the greatest pianists alive at their time, so perhaps their ability to profit off of their virtuosity paints a negative view of their works. – D.R. Dec 11 '18 at 2:10
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    @D.R. An artist who considered the rejection of their work to be enough of an emotional grounding for their next work would be a bit of a ham. Not that I know enough about Rachmaninov to say that comment applies to him, but artistic failrue isn't the same as some of these musicians (deaths of lovers, friends, children for example...). – Luke Sawczak Dec 11 '18 at 5:12
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    @LukeSawczak he wrote a 50 minute long trio for the death of Tchaikovsky, but it’s relatively unknown. He also fled his home (on a sled, to Finland, with a suitcase of manuscripts and his family) because of the Stalinist regime, and I personally think his work reflects the sadness of being completely out of place, culturally and musically. I’m sure he had his fair share of tragedies, and I don’t think it completely explains the difference between Brahms and Rach. – D.R. Dec 11 '18 at 5:53
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    @D.R. Fair enough. – Luke Sawczak Dec 11 '18 at 6:40

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