BRAHMS: Theme and Variations / Sarabandes / Gavottes (Gunter Appenheimer/ Idil Biret/ Martin Sauer) (Naxos: 8.550958)
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Theme and Variations (From String Sextet No.1, Op. 18)
Gavotte by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Sarabande and Two Gavottes
Gigue in A Minor
Sarabande in B Minor
Gigue in B Minor
Kleines Klavierst??ck (Little Piano Piece)
Sarabande in A
Impromptu by Franz Schubert, Op. 90, No.2 (Study for the Left Hand)
Landler by Franz Schubert
Scherzo from Piano Quintet of Robert Schumann, Op. 44
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district ofHamburg, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, a double-bass player, and his wife, aseamstress seventeen years his senior. As was natural, he was at first taughtmusic by his father, the violin and cello, with the intention that the boyshould follow his father's trade, but his obvious interest in the piano led tolessons on the instrument from an inspiring teacher and his first modestappearance 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 classicaltechnique, while he earned money for his family by playing the piano inestablishments of doubtful reputation in the St. Pauli district of the port,frequented largely by sailors and others in search of amusement. By the age offifteen he had given his first solo concert as a pianist.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist EduardRemenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect,and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whoseagency he met the Schumanns then established in D??sseldorf. The connection wasan important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played himto hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequentbreak-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back toD??sseldorf to help his wife Clara Schumann and her young family. Therelationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of thetime, lasted until her death in 1896.
Further concert activity and his association with Joachim and Clara Schumannallowed Brahms to meet many of the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 hetook a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and pianoteacher, duties that he briefly resumed again in the following two years,continuing all the time his activity as a composer and spending much of his timein Hamburg, where his ambitions were always to centre.
Brahms first visited Vienna in 1862, giving concerts there and meeting duringthe course of the winter the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughtychampion. The following year brought appointment as conductor of the ViennaSingakademie for the season and in 1864 he again spent the winter in the city, apattern repeated in the following years until he finally took up permanentresidence there in 1869. For the rest of his life he remained a citizen ofVienna, travelling often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, andgenerally spending the summer months in the country, where he might concentrateon composition without undue disturbance. He came in some ways to occupy aposition similar to that of Beethoven in the musical life of the city, hisnotorious rudeness generally tolerated and his bachelor habits indulged by anadmiring circle of friends. He died in Vienna in 1897.
In the music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came tooccupy a position in direct antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen inBeethoven's great Choral Symphony the last word in symphonic music. Themusic of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form of music-drama of which hewas the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forwardin the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra-musical.
Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion ofpure or abstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. Thedistinction was in some ways an artificial one. Nevertheless Brahms, whosebackground, like Beethoven's, was less literary than that of Wagner or of Liszt,did significantly extend the range of the symphony and was hailed by manycontemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, a future Schumann had prophesiedfor him 23 years before the first symphony was written.
Brahms wrote his first set of variations in 1853, the year of his meetingwith the Schumanns. It was a form in which he excelled, as the later Handel,Haydn and Paganini variations demonstrated. The D minor Theme and Variations waswritten in 1860 for Clara Schumann and is an arrangement of the slow movement ofhis first String Sextet, a transcription that became a favourite of thecomposer. The theme itself has more than a suggestion of the Bach Chaconne fromthe D minor Partita, a work he later transcribed for the piano, to beplayed by the left hand only. The first of the six variations follows Baroquepractice in its divided chords. It is followed by a variation that makes use oftriplet and cross-rhythms, before the rapid scale runs of the third variation.
An expressive D major variation follows, leading to aversion mainly in the upperregister and a final variation that explores a lower range before its hushedconclusion.
The transcription by Brahms of a Gavotte from Gluck's opera Iphigenieen Aulide, originally written for Paride ed Elena, was published in1871 and again dedicated to Clara Schumann, who had long included the work inher repertoire. The lay-out of the arrangement, extending, in its later part,over three staves, is characteristic of Brahms in range and texture, whileproviding further evidence of his wide musical interests. His investigations ofearlier musical forms during the 1850s had led to the composition of pianopieces in Baroque style, the Sarabandes, Gavottes and Gigues writtenin 1854 and 1855, some of which were probably combined with a Prelude andAria now lost to form a characteristic Baroque suite. Clara Schumann, asearly as 1856, had in her repertoire the Sarabande and Gavottes, whichshe played in a concert in London, announcing them as in the style of Bach.
The short piano piece (Kleines Klavierst??ck) briefly bursts intoanother world, a jeu d'esprit that seems to date from about 1860. The twoCanons, for which no particular instrument was originally specified, werewritten in 1864, testimony to the contrapuntal expertise of Brahms.
Further piano transcriptions include an arrangement of the famous Hungarian RakoczyMarch, a version made in 1853, at the time of Brahms's association with theHungarian emigre Remenyi. His version of Schubert's Opus 90, No.2,Impromptu as a formidable study for the left hand seems to have been writtena year or so later, with his characteristic arrangement of Schubert Landler.
In 1854 he made a transcription of Schumann's Piano Quintet for pianoduet and in the same year transcribed the Scherzo from the same work forsolo piano, capturing the tension and subtle excitement of the movement.
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret started to learn the piano at the age of three andlater studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger,graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. A pupil