Borrowing Brahms

By California Symphony

Whether it’s Frank Sinatra crooning it, Carlos Santana picking it, or Robert Mitchum playing it at the piano, the melody in the slow third movement of Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 has inspired many tributes. (Or rip offs, if you prefer, since Brahms is rarely credited as a writer.)

Chances are that even if you think you’re unfamiliar with Brahms’s Symphony No. 3, you already know and can hum it. And if you don’t, you soon will.

1. Frank Sinatra — Take My Love

Probably the most blatant “borrowing” of Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 is the 1951 pop song Take My Love recorded and co-written by Frank Sinatra. Of the work, Sinatra’s biographer James Kaplan wrote, Take My Love, which turned a perfectly honest theme from Brahms’s Third Symphony into an outright weeper, sold like the dog it was.”

“Take my love, hold me tight, take my love, share this night
Share my lips, share my heart, say that we’ll never part…”

2. Santana — Love of My Life

In an interview with the Mercury News local guitar great Carlos Santana related the touching story behind one of his most popular tunes. “One of my very favorite classical works is Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90, the third movement, Poco Allegretto, by Johannes Brahms. I heard this glorious piece of music shortly after my dear father passed away, and I was haunted by it until I was able to identify and locate the original song. It became the inspiration for Love of My Life, a beautiful collaboration between me and Dave Matthews for the Supernatural album.”

3. Goodbye Again

In the movie trailer, the heavily accented voice-over proclaims “Ze provocative story of two loves…A woman and a man, and a woman and a younger man…” This Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins movie was released in Europe as Aimez-vous Brahms?  Themes from the third symphony swell in the background at various points during the classic love triangle, which is played out against the backdrop of 1960s Paris. Incroyable!

Listen for the theme on the accordion at 1:11 and at 2:25 on violin in this trailer.

4. Undercurrent

“Please don’t tell the terrific ending!” screams the movie poster for the 1946 movie by Vincente Minelli.

Not a problem for most critics, who called it ridiculous and contrived, with both leads cast against type: Katherine Hepburn as the weak and confused heroine, and Robert Mitchum as a sensitive man who is surprisingly good at playing Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 extracts on the piano.

5. Jane Birkin — Baby Alone in Babylon

The inspiration behind the eponymous leather Hermes Birkin bag/status symbol, English actress, singer, songwriter, and fashion icon Jane Birkin also tried her hand at singing the Brahms 3 in this 1984 French music video. Words and music are credited to Serge Gainsbourg, with whom she shared a decade-long musical and romantic partnership.

Symphony No. 3 will be featured on BRAHMS FEST on Saturday, February 1 at 8 PM and Sunday, February 2 at 4 PM at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets start at $44 / $20 for students 25 and under with valid Student I.D. and can be purchased online or by calling the Lesher Center Box Office at 925.943.7469.


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