The present text follows that of the Johannes Brahms Gesamtausgabe (Serie I/2, München 2001). Further detailed information concerning sources and edition, as also genesis, early performance history, reception and publication can be found in the Introduction and Critical Report of that volume.
From the time of Robert Schumann’s article Neue Bahnen (1853) – or perhaps even before – Brahms had harboured symphonic ambitions. Nevertheless, the First Symphony in c minor, op. 68 cost him much labour over an extensive period: he was occupied with the work at least from 1862 on, and it was not until the end of May 1877 that he eventually released the Symphony for printing. The successful conclusion of this work and the clear proof it gave him of his symphonic abilities liberated and encouraged him, so that he began composing his Second Symphony almost immediately and, in spite of working simultaneously on other compositions, completed it in just five months. As he noted in his own handwritten catalogue of works, he composed the Second Symphony in D major, op. 73 during his summer vacation in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, where he stayed from 9 June 1877. The first, albeit veiled reference to the Symphony could be in a letter he wrote to his publisher Fritz Simrock between 12–14 June: “How would it be if you were to issue editions of the Cradle Song in the minor, for naughty or sickly children?” – a possible allusion to the second subject of the first movement of the Symphony, perhaps still only as emergent presentiment (Johannes Brahms. Briefe an P. J. Simrock und Fritz Simrock, vol. 2, Berlin 1917 [= Brahms-Briefwechsel X], pp. 38–9). Years later he recalled the time to his biographer, Max Kalbeck, when Kalbeck was staying in Kalbeck, when Kalbeck was staying in the area: “beautiful summer days come to mind, and, unbidden, some of the things I VII took for walks there, the D-major Symphony for instance.” (Max Kalbeck: Johannes Brahms, vol. III/1, Berlin 21912 [= Kalbeck III/1], p. 159 f.).