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BRAHMS: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 9

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Four Hand Piano Music Vol. 9

Piano Concerto No. 1 Academic Festival Overture

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 boy wasable to use his talents by teaching and by playing the piano in summer inns,rather than in the dockside taverns of popular legend, a romantic idea which hehimself seems later to have encouraged.

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,their journey taking them, on the recommendation of the Hungarian violinistJoachim, to Weimar, where Franz Liszt held court and might have been expectedto show particular favour to a fellow-countryman. Remenyi profited from thevisit, but Brahms, with a lack of tact that was later accentuated, failed toimpress the Master. Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns, throughJoachim's agency. 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 inD??sseldorf, the first official appointment of his career and the last. Now inthe music of Brahms he detected a promise of greatness and published his viewsin the journal he had once edited, the Neue Zeitschrift f??r 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 friend untilher 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 ofHamburg. This ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled in Vienna,intermittently from 1863 and definitively in 1869, establishing himself thereand seeming to many 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 byextra-musical associations, of pure music, as opposed to the Music of theFuture promoted by Wagner and Liszt, a path to which Joachim and Brahms bothlater publicly expressed their opposition.

The monumental nature of much of the orchestral work ofBrahms is in part a sign of the great pains that went into its construction.His first piano concerto, which made no concessions to contemporary taste, wasconceived originally as a sonata for two pianos, following his earlier threepiano sonatas. This was written during a difficult period in the composer'slife, after the breakdown of Schumann, to whose encouragement he owed a greatdeal, and the perceived necessity of offering practical support to ClaraSchumann and her young family. The sonata then became a symphony, with somehelp in orchestration from his Gottingen friend Julius Otto Grimm, to reach itsfinal metamorphosis as the Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 15, completed in thisform in 1859. Developed during the difficult final years of Schumann's life inthe asylum at Endenich, where he was being treated, it suggests, particularlyin its slow movement, to which Brahms added the words Benedictus qui venit innomine Domini, a Requiem for Schumann. Brahms also seems to have identified theslow movement with Clara Schumann and recent scholars have pointed out apossible reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann's novel Kater Murr and the fictionalKapellmeister Johannes Kreisler, with whom Brahms sometimes identified himself.

The concerto had its first private rehearsals, with Brahmsas soloist, in Hanover in 1858, with Joachim conducting. They introduced thework to the public in January the following year to a polite reception. Thisrelative success persuaded Brahms to the more ambitious step of a performancein Leipzig with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Julius Rietz, onceMendelsson's assistant in D??sseldorf and now established in Leipzig insuccession to Niels W. Gade. The reaction of the audience to such a demandingwork was hostile, with ironic applause from one or two and hissing from many. Awell known critic found nothing good to say about the concerto and even less tocommend in Brahms's performance as a pianist, at the time his principal meansof earning a living. His later supporter Hanslick, indeed, writing three yearslater, found that Brahms played more like a composer than a virtuoso, praisinghis honesty, his interpretative abilities, yet aware of inaccuracies howevercompelling the whole performance. A subsequent performance of the concerto inHamburg met a better reception. In the following years the work gradually wonwider acceptance, finding its way early into the repertoire of Clara Schumann,a strong advocate. The concerto is massive in its symphonic conception,described by one contemporary as a symphony with piano obbligato, and clearlyposed problems to its first audiences, lacking any trivial or superficialbrilliance in its writing and calling for sustained attention over its veryconsiderable length. As the symphonies Brahms was to write might seem anextension of the work of Beethoven half a century earlier, so the first of histwo piano concertos seemed to continue and develop the pattern set byBeethoven's Emperor Concerto. In November 1855 Brahms had appeared as a soloistwith orchestra for the first time in a performance of that concerto andincluded Beethoven's Fourth Concerto and Mozart's D minor and C minor Concertosin his concert repertoire at this time. These all had an observable influenceon his own writing.

The first movement opens with a feeling of tragicsignificance, the marked trills adding to its ominous nature, before a gentlerelement, a foretaste of the second subject, intervenes, followed by a suddenoutburst from the orchestra, which returns to its opening mood, hushed only bythe entry of the soloist. The pianist succumbs, in turn, to the initial themewith its fierce trills, leading to the second subject, a hymn-like themeannounced by the soloist. The material is developed in a section that makesheavy demands on the solo instrument and the recapitulation brings its ownsurprising shifts of key. The massive first movement is followed by acontrasting slow movement. A long-drawn theme is played by the strings,  with the soloist adding a meditation onthe melody. The solo instrument continues its progress towards a new theme. Themood of the opening returns, extended in a cadenza of great serenity. The lastmovement, a Rondo, has a marked and energetic opening that may remind one ofBeethoven, both in his Concerto in C minor and in other final movements,including, even, in some of the keyboard writing, that of the first pianosonata. The rondo form allows the inclusion of a number of contrasting ideas,leading to a cadenza, marked quasi fantasia and using a dominant pedal-point, asustained note to underpin changes of harmony, a feature characteristic ofBrahms, and a moving conclusion.

The concerto was not accepted for publication by Breitkopf undHartel, but the o
Item number 8554116
Barcode 636943411629
Release date 01/10/2003
Label Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Christian Kohn
Silke-Thora Matthies
Composers Johannes Brahms
Producers Toonstudio Van Geest
Disc: 1
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (arr. piano 4-h
1 Maestoso
2 Adagio
3 Rondo: Allegro non troppo
4 Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (arr. piano 4-h
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