BRAHMS: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 6

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Four Hand Piano Music, Volume 6


Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833, the son of adouble-bass player and his much older wife, a seamstress His childhood wasspent in relative poverty, and his early studies in music, as a pianist ratherthan as a string-player, developed his talent to such an extent that there wastalk of touring as a prodigy at the age of eleven. It was Eduard Marxsen whogave him a grounding in the technical basis of composition, while the boyhelped his family by playing the piano in dockside taverns.


In 1851 Brahms met the emigre Hungarian violinist Remenyi,who introduced him to Hungarian dance music that had a later influence on hiswork. Two years later he set out in his company on his first concert tour, theirjourney taking them, on the recommendation of the Hungarian violinist Joachim,to Weimar, where Franz Liszt held court and might have been expected to showparticular favour to a fellow-countryman. Remenyi profited from the visit, butBrahms, with a lack of tact that was later accentuated, failed to impress theMaster. Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns, through Joachim'sagency. The meeting was a fruitful one.


In 1850 Schumann had taken up the offer from the previousincumbent, Ferdinand Hiller, of the position of municipal director of music in Dusseldorf,the first and last official appointment of his career. Now in the music ofBrahms he detected a promise of greatness and published his views in thejournal he had once edited, the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, declaringBrahms the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. In the following year Schumann,who had long suffered from intermittent periods of intense depression,attempted suicide. His final years, until his death in 1856, were to be spentin an asylum, while Brahms rallied to the support of Schumann's wife, thegifted pianist Clara Schumann, and her young family, remaining a firm frienduntil her death in 1896, shortly before his own in the following year.


Brahms had always hoped that sooner or later he would beable to return in triumph to a position of distinction in the musical life of Hamburg,but this ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled in Vienna, interntittentlyfrom 1863 and definitively in 1869, establishing himself there and seeming tomany to

fulfil Schumann's early prophecy. In him his supporters,including, above all, the distinguished critic and writer Eduard Hanslick, sawa true successor to Beethoven and a champion of music untrammelled by extra-musicalassociations, of pure music, as opposed to the Music of the Future promoted byWagner and Liszt, a path to which Joachim and Brahms both later publicly expressedtheir opposition.


The first of Brahms's symphonies was slow in gestation.

Overawed by the example of Beethoven and the manifold expectations of hisfriends, and unresponsive to their anxious queries, he eventually completed hisSymphony No. 1 in C minor, Opus 68 in the summer of 1876. In early October heplayed the work over to Clara Schumann, who expressed in her diary her initialdisappointment, a judgement she later changed. The new symphony was given itsfirst performance on 4th November in Carlsruhe under the direction of Otto Dessoffand further performances were given in the following weeks. The work was publishedby Simrock, with a four-hand piano arrangement made by the composer, welcomedby supporters of the composer as Beethoven's Tenth. The piano arrangementcaptures much of the massive grandeur of the first movement, with its slow introductionand subsequent sonata-allegro, in which the exposition is repeated before theexploration of the material in a central development and its recapitulation inall its magnificence. The lyricism of the E major Andante sostenuto iscaptured in the piano transcription with its characteristic autumnal shades ofharmonic colouring, leading to the A flat major Allegretto, a gentlerscherzo with a relatively turbulent, modulating B major trio. The last movementhas a C minor slow introduction, followed by the well-known principal theme inC major, the resemblance of which to the principal theme of the last movementof Beethoven's Symphony No.9 was immediately apparent even to the lessperceptive of Brahm's contemporaries.


The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 aroused the patrioticinstincts of Brahms, who had a high opinion of Bismarck and his aspirations.

His contribution to the conflict was the Triumphlied, the first part ofwhich was performed at Bremen Cathedral in Apri11871, together with the GermanRequiem, to honour those killed in the war. Completed in the summer of thatyear, the work was dedicated to the King of Prussia, the new German Emperor,and first performed under Hermann Levi at Carlsruhe. Scored for eight-partchorus, baritone solo and orchestra, the Triumphlied sets verses takenfrom the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Revelations and is overtly Handelianin ancestry, with a debt to the latter's Dettingen Te Deum, celebratingan earlier victory against France. The first of the three interlinked sections setsan Alleluia of praise to God, omitting more defamatory parts of thechosen text, which Brahms still had in mind. The movement, which uses elementsof the Prussian national anthem, a version of God save the Queen, in theapt key of D major, provides antiphonal choruses and appropriate contrapuntalwriting. The G major second movement opens with Baroque dotted rhythms thatSchumann had once identified with the great Cathedral of Cologne. There is alivelier section of D major celebration, before a relaxation into a passage thatdraws on the well-known chorale Nun danket (Now thank we all our God).

The energetic third movement introduces a baritone soloist, in its fullversion, to the words Und ich sahe den Himmel aufgethan (And I saw theHeavens open), revealing the apparition of the pale horse and its rider. Thework ends in triumphant Baroque counterpoint, justifying in a measure Clara Schumann'simmediate reaction to the first performance, when she recorded the work in herdiary as the grandest piece of church music since Bach.


Keith Anderson



Item number 8554119
Barcode 636943411926
Release date 03/01/2000
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Kohn, Christian
Matthies, Silke-Thora
Kohn, Christian
Matthies, Silke-Thora
Composers Brahms, Johannes
Brahms, Johannes
Disc: 1
Triumphlied, Op. 55 (arr. piano 4-hands)
1 Un poco sostenuto - Allegro
2 Andante sostenuto
3 Poco allegretto e graziosos
4 Adagio - Allegro non troppo ma con brio
5 Lebhaft und feierlich
6 Massig belebt
7 Lebhaft
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