BRAHMS: Piano Pieces, Op. 76 / Rhapsodies, Op. 79 / Phantasies, Op. 116 (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550353)
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JohannesBrahms (1833 - 1897)
PianoPieces / Morceaux pour piano / Klavierst??cke Op.76 / TwoRhapsodies / Deux rapsodies / Zwei Rhapsodien Op. 79 Fantasies / Fantaisies / PhantasienOp. 116
JohannesBrahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Harnburg, 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 fitteen 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 for him 23 years before the first symphony was written.
Theeight piano pieces that form Opus 76 werewritten fifteen years after the Paganini Variations,the last work Brahms had written for the piano. Published in two books, the pieces includefour Capriccios and four Intermezzi and were completed in 1878 during summer months spentin the country at Partschach. The work was published the following year and given itsfirst performance in Leipzig in 1880. The F sharp minor Capriccio that opens the firstbook, marked un poco agitato, offers a characteristic melody, from a texture of arpeggios,and the second, in B minor, a sprightly contrast. The A flat Intermezzo and the followingIntermezzo in B flat are in a graceful mood, broken by the agitation of the C sharp minorCapriccio. The two following Intermezzi again offer a relaxation of tension, a moodcontinued in the busier textures of the final Capriccio of the set.
TheTwo Rhapsodies, Opus 79, were among theworks Brahms w rote during another summer at Partschach in 1879. They were published in1880 and dedicated to Elisabet von Herwgenberg, wife of an aristocrat of French ancestry,settled in Leipzig, where their house served as a centre for a circle of admirers ofBrahms. While the texture and passion of the first Rhapsody may breathe the spirit ofromanticism, the form is one of classical clarity, a rondo, in which the opening themere-appears to frame more lyrical episodes, which finally predominate. The second of thepair, in G minor, is in classical sonata form, its passionate first theme contrasted witha second, marked misterioso.
ThePhantasien, Opus 116, include seven pieces,three Capriccios and four intermezzi, and were written and published in 1892 during summermonths spent at Ischl. The year had brought unhappiness, with the death of Elisabet vonHerzogenberg in January and of his eider sister Elise, two years his senior, in June Theset opens with an energetic D minor Capriccio, relaxing into an A minor Intermezzo. Thethird of the group, a G minor Capriccio, provides a passionately felt outer frame for acentral E flat section, where, as so often in Brahms, contrasting rhythms aresuperimposed. The fourth piece is a slow E major Intermezzo, its E major conclusionleading to a graceful E minor companion- piece, and a third Intermezzo gently set in Emajor. Opus 116 ends with a stormier D minorCapriccio.
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 she has performed in concerts around the world playing with majororchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, deBurgos, 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 has received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964) , the HarrietCohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959), the Polish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and wasnamed Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite (1976).