In the summer of 1883, while vacationing in the German spa town of Wiesbaden, Johannes Brahms celebrated his 50th birthday by composing what would become one of his best-known orchestral works, his Symphony No. 3. When he showed the score to lifelong friend Clara Schumann, she exclaimed: “One beat of the heart, every movement a jewel!”

This Beyond the Score production, devised by Gerard McBurney, CSO artistic programming advisor, is subtitled “Free But Happy,” referring to Brahms’ motto, Frei aber froh, inspired by a musical motif of F-A-F (which appears throughout his Third Symphony).  Through his narration, McBurney explores the work within the context of its time. In Europe, it was an era of political upheaval, while in the creative realm, artists grappled with the question of forging ahead with new ideas or clinging to older ways. “It was part of a much bigger battle that was going on,” McBurney said. “The lines were drawn in German culture.”

For this Beyond the Score production, originally presented March 27 and 29, 2015, in Orchestra Hall, guest conductor Edo de Waart leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, joined by pianists Amy Briggs and Winston Choi. Also featured are the voices of actors Kevin Gudahl, Fran Guinan, Matt Krause, Ross Lehman, Roger Mueller and Jill Shellabarger. Lighting and projections were designed by Jason Brown and Hillary Leben.