BRAHMS: Piano Sonatas No. 1, Op. 1 and No. 2, Op. 2 (Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550351)
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
PianoSonata No.2 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 2
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 to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven,and his subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back toD??sseldorf to help his wife Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship withClara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her deathin 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.
Brahms wrote only threepiano sonatas. The first of these, Opus 1 in C major, was completed in 1853 and publishedin that year with a dedication to Joseph Joachim. At Weimar Liszt had played through someof the sonata, before his usual admiring audience of followers, but whatever comments hemay have made in the course of his performance have not been reported. Schumann, however,when he heard the sonata in D??sseldorf, was immediately impressed, as was his wife, whorecorded the event in her diary. To Schumann the young composer was a genius, to whom noadvice could be offered. In his sonatas were veiled symphonies in sound, as Schumann wrotein the Neue Zeitschrift f??r Musik. Here, infact, was the Messiah that had been long awaited. Such praise from such a source wasdaunting, and Brahms exercised all the greater care in revising his first two pianosonatas for publication in Leipzig by Breitkopf and Hartel.
TheC major Sonata opens with an emphatic andfirmly classical first subject leading to a lyrical A minor second subject, exploring awide range of keys in a manner that might suggest Schubert. The second movement is basedon an old German Minnelied, the words of which are given with the opening melody:
Verstohlengeht der Mond auf,
durchSilberwolkchen f??hrt sein Lauf,
Rosenim Tal, Madel im Saal,
(Themoon steals out,
Blue,blue little flower,
Throughsilver clouds he takes his course,
Blue,blue little flower.
Rosesin the valley, maiden in her chamber,
Omost beautiful Rosa!)
Thesong was published by the polymath Zuccalmaglio, to whom it has by some been attributed,although others suggest that he only added romantic coloration to the songs he collected.
Brahms offers a series of variations on the theme.
TheE minor Scherzo is contrasted with an expressive C major Trio, and the sonata ends with aFinale marked Allegro con fuoco, its principal theme derived from the first subject of thefirst movement. There is an expressive G major first episode and a second rondo episode inA minor, the whole movement ending in a passage marked Presto agitato, ma non troppo.
Thesecond sonata was written before the C major Sonata.
In the key of F sharp minor, it was completed in 1852 and published in Leipzig at the endof the following year with a dedication to Clara Schumann. It too was among the worksBrahms played to Schumann in D??sseldorf in 1853. The first movement is a dramatic pieceof great passion. The Andante, composed first, is a set of variations on an old Minneliedattributed to Kraft von Toggenburg, Mir ist leide. The Scherzo starts with a melodicfigure from the song. In B minor it has a contrasting Trio in a lilting D major, and isfollowed by a Finale that begins with an introductory passage followed by a song-likefirst melody, derived from the opening. The mood of the introduction, with its briefcadenzas, returns in the F sharp major conclusion.
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