Are you sure that you know what common musical symbols really meant to Brahms and his contemporaries? Let’s take the crescendo hairpin. You think it refers to dynamic increase or decrease? Yes, but there’s more. The symbol was also used to indicate tempo fluctuations, a certain elasticity of the tempo, something between a real rubato which the composer might have notated and a strict adherence to a constant rhythmic pulse.
And what about vibrato in string playing? Today the question is often reduced to a choice between vibrato or non-vibrato. To Brahms and his contemporaries vibrato was one of many expressional devices, used sparingly and as an occasional embellishment.
Are you a pianist and have you practiced intensively to play with both hands in absolute synchrony? Dislocation, the separation of the melody from the accompaniment, also referred to as manual asynchrony, was employed as a means of expression by Brahms and his contemporaries.
And did you know that a certain degree of arpeggiation was the normal manner of playing chords? Playing them absolutely together was considered a special effect.
You will find a wealth of information on Romantic performance practice in our publication „Performance Practices in Johannes Brahms‘ Chamber Music“. The enlightening text by Clive Brown, Neal Peres Da Costa and Kate Bennett Wadsworth has the potential to become obligatory reading material for anyone performing Romantic chamber music.