BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances / Waltzes, Op. 39 (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550355)
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JohannesBrahms (1833 - 1897)
Waltzes / Valses / Walzer, Op. 39
HungarianDances / Danses hongroises / Ungarische Tanze
JohannesBrahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son ofJohann Jakob Brahms, a double-bass player, and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years hissenior. As was natural, he was at first taught music by his father, the violin and cello,with the intention that the boy should follow his father's trade, but his obvious interestin the piano led to lessons on the instrument from an inspiring teacher and his firstmodest appearance on the concert platform at the age of ten. From this time onwards hebecame a pupil of Eduard Marxsen, who gave him a firm grounding in classical technique,while he earned money for his family by playing the piano in establishments of doubtfulreputation in the St. Pauli district of the port, frequented largely by sailors and othersin search of amusement. By the age of fifteen he had given his first solo concert as apianist.
In1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, duringthe course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendshipwith the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns thenestablished in D??sseldorf .The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressedenough by the music Brahms played him to hail him as the long-awaited successor toBeethoven, and his subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity broughtBrahms back to D??sseldorf to help his wife Clara Schumann and her young family. Therelationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time,lasted until her death in 1896.
Furtherconcert activity and his association with Joachim and Clara Schumann allowed Brahms tomeet many of the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 he took a temporary position atthe court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, duties that he briefly resumedagain in the following two years, continuing all the time his activity as a composer andspending much of his time in Hamburg, where his ambitions were always to centre.
Brahmsfirst visited Vienna in 1862, giving concerts there and meeting during the course of thewinter the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion. The following yearbrought appointment as conductor of the Vienna Singakademie for the season and in 1864 heagain spent the winter in the city, a pattern repeated in the following years until hefinally took up permanent residence there in 1869. For the rest of his life he remained acitizen of Vienna, travelling often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, andgenerally spending the summer months in the country, where he might concentrate oncomposition without undue disturbance. He came in some ways to occupy a position similarto Beethoven in the musical life of the city, his notorious rudeness generally toleratedand his bachelor habits indulged by an admiring circle of friends. He died in Vienna in1897.
Inthe music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came to occupy a position indirect antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen in Beethoven's great Choral Symphony thelast word in symphonic music. The music of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form ofmusic-drama of which he was the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly foundthe way forward in the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra-musical.
Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion of pure orabstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. The distinction was insome ways an artificial one. Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, like Beethoven's, wasless literary than that of Wagner or of Liszt, did significantly extend the range of thesymphony and was hailed by many contemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, a futureSchumann had prophesied tor hirn 23 years before the first symphony was written.
Brahmsshowed an early interest in Hungarian gypsy music, to which he had been introduced by hisearly acquaintance with Remenyi and his continuing friendship with Joseph Joachim, whosebackground was similar. In the 1850 she played gypsy melodies on the piano, some of whichwere never written down. The group of ten Hungarian Dances for solo piano was published in1872, after earlier rejection of a smaller group of dances by a less acute publisher thanSimrock, who issued the first set of dances in a piano duet version in 1869. It is thoughtthat the original version was for solo piano, a form in which they had clearly long beenknown to those in Brahms's circle of friends. To the composer these dances werearrangements of what was then thought to be Hungarian folk music, although later research,in particular by Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly was to establish this kind of music assimply part of popular Hungarian art music. Whatever the derivation of their rhythmic andmelodic material, some of it remembered from the playing of Remenyi or heard in casualcafe performance, the Hungarian Dances are unmistakably stamped with the musicalpersonality of Brahms.
Theset of ten Hungarian dances opens with thefamous G minor dance, followed by a D minor dance, with a central D major episode, and athird in D minor, with a lively D major middle section. The fourth dance, in F sharpminor, is of a more expressive cast, leading to a more passionate companion in the samekey. The sixth of the set, in D flat major, frames a slower C sharp minor section inlivelier outer sections, leading to the rhythmic seventh dance and an eighth in A minor inthe rhythm of the first. A dance in E minor is succeeded by the final rapid E major thatrounds of the work.
Thesixteen Waltzes that form Opus 39 werewritten in Vienna in 1864 and published two years later with a dedication to the criticEduard Hanslick, who welcomed such an unexpected gift from a serious, North Germancomposer, who might have been supposed incapable of such Viennese abandon. If the greatsymphonies of Brahms continue the tradition of Schubert, they may be imagined as a tributeto the city where the compose was now to make his home.
The original versionseems to be that for piano duet, a form that had an immediate popular commercialattraction and would have provided Hanslick with music to share with young ladies of hisacquaintance, with whom he was accustomed to play duets. The Waltzes are in a simpler andshorter form than the slightly more complex Hungarian Dances.
Bornin Ankara, Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age of three. She displayed anoutstanding gift for music and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with three firstprizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with Alfred Cortot and Wilhelm Kempff, andcomposition with Nadia Boulanger. Since the age of sixteen Idil Biret has performed inconcerts around the world, playing with major orchestras under the direction of conductorssuch as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. Shehas participated in the festivals of Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens,Berlin, Gstaad and Istanbul. She was also invited to perform at the 85th birthdaycelebration of Wilhelm Backhaus and at the 90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.
Idil Biret received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund Award (1954/1964), the HarrietCohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959) and the Polish Artistic Merit Award (1974) and wasnamed Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite in 1976.