BRAHMS: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Christian Kohn/ Silke-Thora Matthies) (Naxos: 8.553140)
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FourHand Piano Music Vol. 2
Brahms wasa symphonist, a composer of concertos and sonatas, a writer of chamber musicand songs and a poet whose Requiem was German not Latin. He was anarranger and editor, and he was a man of the dance, drawn as much to fragrantViennese flirtations as swaggering Hungarian seductions, worshipping Schubertand the Strauss family no less than drinking in earthy gypsy vitality. \Hewould frequently come to our room and play to us," remembered Schumann'syoungest daughter, Eugenie: "Schubert waltzes or his own Valses Op. 39,and wonderful, melancholy Hungarian melodies for which I have looked in vainamong his published works; perhaps he never wrote them down". As a boy hehelped his family by playing the piano for sailors in the dockside saloons ofHamburg. His professional career truly began in August 1850 when he met theHungarian violinist Ede Remenyi (1828-98), who had been a classmate of Joachimin Vienna. Remenyi, the subject of the final pages of Liszt's The Gypsy inMusic, 1859, was among exiles fleeing the Austro-Russian suppression of the1848 Hungarian uprising: at that time Hamburg was a traditional escape route toNorth America and was a place jostling with refugees, each with his own exoticidentity. The two young men gave many concerts together, touring Germany inApril and May 1853. That year, Brahms met Liszt (to whom he took a dislike) andSchumann, the first publicly to recognize his genius. From Remenyi Brahmslearnt not only csardas and verbunko (recruiting dance-song)tunes, some of which he wrote down and sent to Joachim, but also how to playfrom the soul in the gypsy style - with improvisational flamboyance, knife-edgetension, yearning passion, and orientally decorative attack. He discovered theallure of strangely intricate rhythms, the secret of infinitely flexiblerubati, and like Liszt he became exposed to material he mistook for authenticMagyar folk-music, when it was in fact more properly a gypsyfication of whatBartok (1921) was later to classify as "melodies by popular amateurs...educated dilettanti" - a hunting-ground Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, too,had known well. Such a cocktail of popular dance and gypsy fancy ("thebitter-sweet sound of coffee-house music") left a lasting influence on his work- from (among many examples) the popular Hungarian Dances and Zigeunerlieder,through the weightier Variations on a Hungarian Song, Op. 21 No.2 andthe finales of the G minor Piano Quartet and Violin Concerto, tothe rhetoric of the thirteenth of the Handel Variations.
What was itlike, for a foreigner, to experience Hungarian urban-gypsy music? FollowingBrahms's death, the English poet and essayist Arthur Symons visited Budapest, leavinga timeless description in his book Cities (1903):
TheHungarian gypsies are the most naturally musical people in the world. Music istheir instinctive means of expression; they do not learn it, it comes to themof itself... The gypsies hold their violin in almost every position but the normalone... Their fingering is elementary; they use the bow sometimes as a hammer,sometimes as a whip; they pluck at the strings with all their fingers at once,as if they would tear the heart out of the tormented fiddle... The time varies,the rhythm fanatically disguised by a prolonged vibration, as it were, of noteshumming around a central tone. In its keen intensity and profuseornamentation... it is like nothing else in music... In Budapest there is agypsy band in every cafe, and as you walk along the streets at night you willhear at every moment the scrape of fiddles from behind curtained and lightedwindows... This music, I think, is after all scarcely music; but rather nerves,a suspense, a wheeling of wings around a fixed point... A native wildnessspeaks in it, it speaks in the eyes of these dark animals, with their look ofwild beasts eyeing their keepers... It is tigerish, at once wild and stealthy.
And it draws everything into its own net...
The HungarianDances, WoO 1, were issued by Simrock of Bonn in 1869 (Books I/II, Nos.
1-10) and 1880 (III/IV, Nos. 11-21), six of the first ten having previouslybeen rejected by a Budapest publisher as commercially unviable. In theiroriginal guise, for piano solo (eventually finalized for publication in 1872),a few at least must have been ready by the Gottingen summer of 1858, whenBrahms is known to have tried out some on Clara Schumann: within months bothwere programming them in their recitals. But it was only in November 1868 inOldenburg, that they first performed together the elaborated duet form we knowtoday. Besides the four-hand and solo (Naxos 8.550355) versions, the music rapidlycame to enjoy popularity in arrangements for violin and piano by Joachim (Naxos8.553026); and orchestra (Naxos 8.550110 - Nos. 1, 3 and 10 transcribed byBrahms himself, 1873; Nos. 17-21 by Dvorak, 1880; the rest by different hands);as well as in other mediums (including an alternative piano transcription fromMoszkowski). Even the gypsies, in poetic exchange, made again their own whatBrahms had copied from them. An historic Viennese cylinder recording of the Gminor first dance, albeit virtually unrecognizable, introduced and played bythe composer himself, dates from November 1889.
Inpublishing his Hungarian Dances, Brahms was widely accused ofplagiarism, not least by Remenyi. Yet from the outset he was careful to clarifyhis r??le as one of arranger rather than originator. Where he erred was infailing to credit the musicians from whom he had quoted.  Divine csardas ,after Sarkozi. Bartok (Harvard 1943) noted its characteristic dotted long/shortrhythms, also apparent elsewhere in the collection (e.g. Nos. 5, 8) as patently"anti-Hungarian".  from Mor Windt's Emma csardas.  a wedding danceon tunes by Remenyi and J. Rizner (Tolnai Lakadalmas); the vivace
will be familiar from Liszt's Eighth Hungarian Rhapsody.  aheel-clicking, whip-lashing dance, after N. Merty's Souvenir de Kalocsay.
 from Bela Keler's Souvenir de Bartfai, Op. 31, juxtaposed with aSlavonic tune.  Danse du Rosier, possibly after Nittinger. another Remenyi melody.  adapted from Szadaby-Frank's Louisa csardas
after Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  from J. Travnik's Makoc csardas.
 a further Rizner wedding dance (Tolnai Lakadalmas). The themes ofthe more introspective 1880 collection are less well sourced. But thecross-rhythms, traditional folk cadences, tremulous cimbalom violin and chalumeauclarinet imitations, folk-modality (the Dorian tones of  for instance), essentiallydown-beat phraseology (Hungarian words are accented on the first syllable), andsharp contrasts of mood and tempo clearly belong to the same rhapsodic,larger-scale, variational background as the earlier cycle. Bridging a worldbetween Liszt and Kodaly , three - ,  and  - are supposedly originalcompositions.  incorporates an Italianate tune famous from Liszt's TwelfthHungarian Rhapsody (coincidentally another Donizetti Lucia reference- the allegretto giocoso melody on Edgar's Act III aria, Tu che a Diospiegasti l'ali).
Theeighteen "Landler tempo" Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52a (1868-69), wereoriginally composed for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soli with piano duetaccompaniment. In this form they were first heard in Karlsruhe on 6th October1869, with a vocal quartet partnered by Clara Schumann and the conductorHermann Levi at the piano. The duet version, without voices but prefaced by th