Johannes Brahms(1833 -1897)
Four Songs fromDie schone Magelone
Johannes Brahms was bornon 7th May 1833in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, adouble-bass player, and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years his senior. A?ºwas 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 hisobvious interest in the piano led to lessons on the instrument from aninspiring teacher and his first modest appearance on the concert platform atthe age of ten. From this time onwards he became a pupil of Eduard Marxsen, whogave him a firm grounding in classical technique, while he earned money for hisfamily by playing the piano in establishments of doubtful reputation in the St.
Pauli district of the port, frequented. largely by sailors and others in searchof 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 thecourse of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, andstruck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agencyhe met the Schumanns then established in D??sseldorf. The connection was animportant one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played him tohail 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 activityand his association with Joachim and Clara Schumann allowed Brahms to meet manyof the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 he took a temporary positionat the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, duties that hebriefly resumed again in the fol1owing two years, continuing al1 the time hisactivity as a composer and spending much of his time in Hamburg, where hisambitions were always to centre.
Brahms first visited Vienna in 1862,giving concerts there and meeting during the course of the winter the critic EduardHans1ick, who was to prove a doughty champion. The fol1owing year broughtappointment as conductor of the Vienna Singakademie for the season and in 1864he again spent the winter in the city, a pattern repeated in the fol1owingyears until he final1y took up permanent residence there in 1869. For the restof his 1ife he remained a citizen of Vienna, travel1ing oftenenough to visit friends or to give concerts, and general1y spending the summermonths in the country, where he might concentrate on composition without unduedisturbance. He came in some ways to occupy a position similar to Beethoven inthe musical life of the city, his notorious rudeness general1y tolerated andhis bachelor habits indulged by an admiring circle of friends. He died in Vienna in 1897.
In the music of thesecond half of the nineteenth century Brahms came to occupy a position indirect antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen in Beethoven's great ChoralSymphony the last word in symphonic music. The music of the future lay, heclaimed, in the new form of music-drama of which he was the sole proponent. Hisfather-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forward in the symphonic poem, anal1oy formed from the musical and extra- musical. Brahms, largely through theadvocacy of Hans1ick, found himself the champion of pure or abstract musiccombined neither with drama nor any other medium. The distinction was in someways an artifical one. Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, 1ike Beethoven's,was less 1iterary than that of?á Wagner or of Liszt, did significantly extend therange of the symphony and was hailed by many contemporaries as the successor toBeethoven, a future Schumann had prophesied for him twenty-three years before thefirst symphony was written.
Brahms spent some yearsof intermittent work on his first and, in fact, only song-cycle, a setting offifteen poems drawn from the romantic writer Ludwig Tieck's retelling of theromance of Count Peter and the beautiful daughter of the King of Naples, Magelone,Wundersame Liebesgeschichte der schonen Magelone und des Grafen Peteraus der Provence(Wonderful Love Story of the Fair Magelone and Count Peter of Provence). In Tieck'swork the poems serve as interludes in the telling of the story of Count Peter,who is victorious in tournaments before the King of Naples and wins the love ofhis daughter. The couple elope, but are separated in the forest. Count Peter,adrift at sea, falls captive to the Moors and becomes a slave of the Sultan,prey to the amorous intentions of the sultan's daughter sulima, through whosehelp he escapes, finally to be re-united in the forest with Magelone, who haswaited for him during his two years of captivity and adventure. It has beensuggested that, perhaps subsconsciously, Brahms was in some way aware of aparallel with his own early adventures and brief, unconsummated flirtations.
The songs transcribed by Brahms for piano include the twelfth of the cycle, Mu?ƒes eine Trennung geben (Must there be a parting, to break a true heart?), withits lute-like arpeggios. The tenth song, Verzweiflung (Despair) comes as CountPeter is swept out to sea, in imminent danger of drowning, and in the eleventh,Wie schnell verschwindet (How quickly the light of day vanishes), all isdarkness. The fourteenth song, Wie froh und frisch (How happy and lively my senseis now), marks the final passing of danger, the sea glowing in the reflectedsunlight as the waves bear him horneward to his beloved.
The Waltzes, Opus 39, inthe version for one pianist, were published in 1867 with a dedication to EduardHanslick, the writer and musician so unfairly parodied by Wagnerin TheMastersingers, where Beckmesser is a barely disguised representation of thecritic. The first version of the Waltzes was in the form of a piano duet,completed in 1865. Other versions include the present one, for one pianist.
There was also a simplified version, a concession to enthusiastic amateurs, andan arrangement of four of the waltzes for two pianos. Each waltz is adelightful miniature. Occasionally a Hungarian element appears and there is, inany case, considerable variety within the necessary triple metre of the dance.
The set of waltzes enjoyed considerable popularity, an early tribute by Brahmsto the city where he was to make his home.
The cadenzas Brahmswrote out for keyboard concertos by Bach, and Mozart were published for thefirst time in 1927, while those for Beethoven's G Major Piano Concerto werepublished originally in 1907. The cadenza for Bach's Concerto in D minorpreserves something of the style and figuration of the concerto itself. Themanuscript of the cadenzas to Mozart's Concerto in G major, K. 453, carries anote of attribution from Clara Schumann and is clear enough in texture, withone or two chords that demand either a large hand or arpeggiation. The cadenzafor the slow movement is marked quasi fantasia and brings an element of Brahmsiancross-rhythm. It exists in alternative versions. The rather more elaboratecadenza for Mozart's Concerto in D minor, K. 466, was used, in part, by ClaraSchum