BRAHMS: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 4 (Christian Kohn/ Silke-Thora Matthies) (Naxos: 8.553726)
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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Music for Piano Duet
Serenade No.1 in D major, Op.11
Serenade No.2 in A major, Op.16
(arranged by Brahms for piano duet)
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in1833, the son of a double-bass player and his much older wife, a seamstress.
His childhood was spent in relative poverty, and his early studies in music, asa pianist rather than as a string-player, developed his talent to such anextent that there was talk of touring as a prodigy at the age of eleven. It wasEduard Marxsen who gave him a grounding in the technical basis of composition.
while the boy helped his family by playing the piano in dockside taverns.
In 1851 Brahms met the emigre Hungarianviolinist Remenyi, who introduced him to Hungarian dance music that had a laterinfluence on his work. Two years later he set out in his company on his firstconcert tour, their journey taking them, on the recommendation of the Hungarianviolinist Joachim, to Weimar, where Franz Liszt held court and might have beenexpected to show particular favour to a fellow-countryman. Remenyi profitedfrom the visit, but Brahms, with a lack of tact that was later accentuated,failed to impress the Master. Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns,through Joachim's agency. The meeting was a fruitful one.
In 1850 Schumann had taken up the offerfrom the previous incumbent, Ferdinand Hiller, of the position of municipaldirector of music in D??sseldorf, the first official appointment of his careerand the last. Now in the music of Brahms he detected a promise of greatness andpublished his views in the journal he had once edited, the Neue Zeitschriftf??r Musik, declaring Brahms the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. In thefollowing year Schumann, who had long suffered from intermittent periods ofintense depression, attempted suicide. His final years, until his death in1856, were to be spent in an asylum, while Brahms rallied to the support ofSchumann's wife, the gifted pianist Clara Schumann, and her young family,remaining a firm friend until her death in 1896, shortly before his own in thefollowing year.
Brahms had always hoped that sooner orlater he would be able to return in triumph to a position of distinction in themusical life of Hamburg. This ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settledin Vienna, intermittently from 1863 and definitively in 1869, establishinghimself there and seeming to many to fulfil Schumann's early prophecy. ln himhis supporters, including, above all, the distinguished critic and writer EduardHanslick, saw a true successor to Beethoven and a champion of musicuntrammelled by extra-musical associations, of pure music, as opposed to theMusic of the Future promoted by Wagner and Liszt, a path to which Joachim andBrahms both later publicly expressed their opposition.
In 1857 Brahms had accepted an invitationto visit the court of Detmold. Clara Schumann had been giving lessons there toPrincess Frederike, but after the death of Robert Schumann she had handed overher responsibilities to Brahms. In Detmold he was offered employment for threemonths as pianist and chorus conductor, an offer he gladly accepted. He retumedto Detmold in the autumn of 1858 and 1859, thereafter preferring to devote histime to composition without the limitations and distractions offered there. Itwas, however, during this period that he wrote his two orchestral Serenades.
The first of these, the Serenade in D major, Opus 11, published withits companion in 1860, had its first official performance in Hanover, although itseems that it had been played through in Detmold in its original form as anoctet by players from the Detmold court orchestra, led by the youngconcertrnaster Karl Bargheer, a pupil of Joachim. Clara Schumann in the sameyear, 1860, insisted that the Serenade should be played at a benefitconcert in Vienna, if she was to take part, and continued to urge the two Serenadeson other influential conductors. Both works were arranged by Brahms forpiano duet, following his general custom of providing access to larger scalecomposition in four-hand arrangements for one or two pianos.
The D major Serenade is in sixmovements, largely following earlier tradition, and it owes something toBrahms's study of classical models. The surviving autograph of the orchestralversion of the work suggests that it was conceived as a symphony-serenade, andin length, at least, it is ambitious. It starts in a happy, pastoral mood, towhich a more ominous strain is added, in the tones of Beethoven, beforebecoming recognisably and unequivocally Brahms. Open D major chords in the secondoallow the entry of the horn melody, to be answered, in the primo, bythe clarinet, with a due modulation to the dominant for secondary material,where Brahms's beloved cross-rhythms are introduced. The development modulatesthrough D flat major to B flat and to G major, before the principal themeretums in its proper key once more. The lilting D minor first Scherzo touchesa rustic mood in its B flat major trio section and is followed by a B flat majorslow movement of classical contour, where the orchestral version findscharacteristic use for the French homs, duly indicated in the piano-duet score.
The G major Minuet provides peasant merriment, before moving on tosomething in a more poignant G minor, while the second Scherzo bringssuggestions of Beethoven in pastoral mood. A final Rondo, with acheerfully resilient principal theme, brings the work to an end.
The second of the pair, the SerenadeNo.2 in A major, Opus 16, was given its first public performance in Hamburgin 1860. The orchestral version is scored for wind instruments and lowerstrings, without violins. In a let ter to Joachim Brahms wrote of the greatdelight he had taken in the wnrk, as he arranged it for piano duet. In fivemovements, it starts with an Allegro moderato in which cross-rhythmsmake an early appearance, and allows the central A minor Adagio, inwhich Clara Schumann detected liturgical solemnity, to be preceded by a livelyC major Scherzo, with an F major Trio, and followed by a D major QuasiMenuetto movement in 6/4 metre that nevertheless suggests something of theinfluence of Haydn. The work ends with a colourful Rondo that at onceintroduces varied rhythms, in its principal theme. Brahms revised theorchestral version of the Serenade, for which he had a particularfondness, in 1875.
Piano Duo Silke-Thora Matthies andChristian Kohn
The pianists Silke-Thora Matthies andChristian Kohn, both withindividual solo careers, can1e together in 1986 to form a piano duo, Silke-ThoraMatthies was born in G??tersloh, and studied in Detmold and at The JuilliardSchool in New York, winning fust prize at the New York Gina BachauerCornpetition and further awards in the Budapest Liszt-Bartok Competition, theBordeaux Jeunes Solistes and the Cleveland, Ohio, Robert Casadesus Competition,She has recorded music ranging from Scarlatti to the contemporary and appearedas soloist and recitalist in Germany and abroad, Christian Kahn was born inBochum and studied in Dortmund and Detmold, winning prizes in the RamburgSteinway Piano Competition, the Dortmund International Schubert Competition,with awards from the Ramburg Oscar-und-Vera-Ritter- Stiftung and the BonnGerman Music Competition. His career has taken him as soloist and recitalist tovarious countries of Europe and the Near East. As a duo the two players havewon wide acclaim, with international prizes, and appearances in reci