In the latter part of the 19th century, people believed that listening to classical music would make one a better person. Contemporary research on brain development and intelligence indicates that this idea may not have been far from the mark.
Also at this time there was an elevation of the status of musicians that occurred when philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer published that his conception of the driving/god force in the world, the Will, could best be described by music. In this environment when composition was taken very seriously, Johannes Brahms created his Second Symphony, Op. 73. While it would be too programmatic to considers the work a portrayal of the life and struggles of some heroic superman, after hearing the work in its entirety, it is possible to have a cathartic experience similar to watching a great work of theatre.
To a large extent the impact this work can have is due to Brahms' masterful composition style, a principal aspect of which is an economy of musical material. For example, the first three notes heard, played by the cellos and basses, become the melodic germ for later episodes and the basis for accompanimental figures throughout the movement.
The next three notes, the beginning of the melody in the horn, similarly are utilized again and again both melodically and as accompaniment. The same is true of the first notes of the woodwind melody, which enters four bars after the horn. The mood of the music changes greatly.