BRAHMS: Intermezzi, Op. 117 / Piano Pieces, Opp. 118-119 (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550354)
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JohannesBrahms (1833 - 1897)
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.
In 1853 Brahms embarkedon a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, during the course of whichhe visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinistJoseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns then established in D??sseldorf.
The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahmsplayed him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequentbreak-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to D??sseldorf tohelp his wife Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship 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 for him 23 years before the first symphony was written.
Thelast compositions Brahms wrote for piano were those published as Opus 117, 118 and 119,principally the work of 1892, when he apparently wrote a number of other piano pieces thatwere never published. The first group, Opus 117,consists of three Intermezzi. The first, in the key of E flat, carries as a sub-title aquotation from Herder's translation of a Scottish folk-song:
Schlafsanft, mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schon!
Michdauert 's sehr, dich weinen sehn.
Its beautiful melody, thebasis of the whole piece, is concealed in an inner part. The second Intermezzo, in B flatminor, makes expressive use of an arpeggiated texture and the group ends with a C sharpminor Intermezzo where the initial theme is presented in stark and recurrent octaves.
bears the simpler title Klavierst??cke andincludes four Intermezzi, a Ballade and a Romanze. The opening Intermezzo in A minor ismarked Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato, a mood expressed in a texture of greatclarity. The second Intermezzo, in A major, provides a relaxation of mood into a tendervaledictory melancholy. The G minor Ballade,with a B major central section, is vigorous in its principal theme but tranquil enough inits conclusion. There follows an F minor Intermezzo, marked Allegretto un poco agitato, aninstruction that epitomises the feeling of the music, which leads to the F major Romanze,with its lilting D major central section. The sixth piece is an E flat minor Intermezzomaking greater technical demands in a work where the chief demands are musical.
contains three Intermezzi and one Rhapsody. It opens with a B minor Intermezzo that ClaraSchumann found sadly sweet, an apt description. The second Intermezzo, in E minor, is lesstranquil in its outer sections, which enclose a central section that breathes the feelingof the summer countryside. The third Intermezzo, in C major, is marked Grazioso e giocoso,and with happy grace allows its initial melody to emerge in an inner part. Opus 119 endswith an E flat major Rhapsody, the last of "your and my little pieces", asBrahms called them in a letter to Clara Schumann, whose pupil Ilona Eibensch??tz gavetheir first public performance in London in 1894. The Rhapsody is forthright in itsopening but contains elements of melancholy beauty at its heart and brings to an end in afirmly minor key the composer's compositions for the piano.
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.
Sincethe age of sixteen Idil Biret has performed in concerts around the world playing withmajor orchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent,de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She has participated in the festivals ofMontreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens. Berlin. Gstaad and Istanbul. She wasalso invited to perform at the 85th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Backhaus and at the90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.
IdilBiret received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964), the Harriet Cohen/DinuLipatti Gold Medal ( 1959) and the Polish Artistic Merit Award (1974) and was namedChevalier de I'Ordre du Merite in 1976.
IdilBiret is recording for Naxos th