|About this Recording
8.550441 - BRAHMS / DUVERNOY / HERZOGENBERG: Horn Trios
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Trio in E Flat Major for French horn, violin and piano, Op. 40
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions of his own that Brahms played him to hail the young composer as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music- drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly after his first symphony, and winning a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.
The contribution of Brahms to chamber music was as significant as his work as a symphonist, as a composer of songs and as a writer of music for the piano. His Trio for French horn, violin and piano, published with the optional replacement of the first instrument by a viola, was written during the summer of 1865 at Lichtenthal, where Clara Schumann had bought a cottage. The use of the horn, in this case originally the natural Waldhorn, an instrument gradually being displaced at this period by the valve horn, is unusual, but adds a deeply romantic texture to the music. The first movement, which, unusually, is not in the customary sonata-form, has an air of gentle melancholy. The second movement, a Scherzo, with a contrasting A flat minor Trio, makes use of the association of the horn with hunting, after the emphatic opening of the movement. The deeply felt slow movement, its melancholy suggesting sadness at the death of the composer's mother in the preceding year, leads to a hunting finale, thematically related to material appearing towards the end of the Adagio.
In Vienna during the winter of 1863-64 Brahms had accepted as a pupil Elisabeth von Stockhausen, third daughter of the Hanoverian ambassador in Vienna, a girl whose musical gifts were matched by her beauty. In 1868 she married Heinrich von Herzogenberg, grandson of a French nobleman who had taken refuge in Austria at the time of the French Revolution, changing his name from Picot de Peccaduc. The Herzogenbergs proved loyal friends of Brahms, entertaining him in their house in Leipzig, where they settled in 1872 and where Herzogenberg helped to found and lead the Bach-Verein. He was appointed professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in 1885, a position from which he finally retired in the year of his death, 1900.
The English composer Ethel Smythe became an intimate friend of Elisabeth von Herzogenberg during the years she spent in Leipzig, although they were later estranged, and took lessons from Herzogenberg, who had deplored the inadequate teaching at the Conservatory and resolved now to take his first pupil. She writes in her Memoirs of his Jesuit education and his family's original intention of putting their younger son into the priesthood, a step that he had rejected in favour of music, an unusual choice for one in his station. His contrapuntal ability was remarkable, a facility that Ethel Smythe considered as useful as being able to tie oneself in knots or play twelve games of chess at once, and he had the habit of devoting a certain number of hours each day to composition, with results that she, at least, found often dry. His own claims, however, were modest: he had perhaps nothing new to say, but hoped to hand on the good tradition.
In Herzogenberg's chamber music the influence of Brahms is often evident. His Trio in D major for French horn, oboe and piano, Op. 61, was written in 1889. While it may lack something of the depth of feeling of Brahms, the Trio makes an attractive addition to wind and piano repertoire, with overt reminiscences of the Horn Trio Brahms had written during Herzogenberg's first year of musical study with Dessoff in Vienna, when he had first met Brahms. Frederic-Nicolas Duvernoy, born in 1765 at Montbeliard, was one of the first important figures in the development of horn-playing in France, an art in which he was self-taught. In 1788 he joined the orchestra of the Comedie Italienne in Paris and in 1790 joined the band of the National Guard. In 1795 he became professor of the horn at the newly established Conservatoire and was later principal horn-player at the Opera. Napoleon held him in high esteem and his playing was praised by leading critics. His brother was well known as a clarinettist and his son as a teacher of Solfege at the Conservatoire. Frederic Duvernoy wrote important pedagogical works for horn-players and a quantity of music, principally for the same instrument, in one combination or another, making a technically significant addition to its concert repertoire, as exemplified in the present brief Trio.
Close the window