What do you do when you’re a prestigious university and you award an honorary doctorate to one of the greatest composers of your time, and the composer deems to respond with a nice “Thank You” letter? Why, you tell him that won’t do, and that protocol demands that he respond with a musical offering!
And what do you do if you’re said composer and you suddenly find yourself oddly obliged to write a piece for this particular school? Why, you write a sardonically humorous concert overture that collects several drinking songs and the like.
Or, that’s what you do if you’re Johannes Brahms. And if you are Johannes Brahms, the piece you write as almost a joke still becomes–because you’re a genius and your base level is higher than that of most other composers–one of the enduring concert overtures of all time.
Here is the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms.
Brahms himself called this overture a “potpourri a la Suppe”, referring to Franz von Suppe, the composer of popular operettas and light music whose work is mostly forgotten today except for the always-scintillating (and often featured on this blog!) overtures to said operettas. The degree to which Brahms towers over Suppe is quite something to behold.