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8.553121 - BRAHMS: Clarinet Sonatas
English 

Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897)

Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897)

Sonatas tot Clarinet and Piano

Sonata in F minor for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, No.1

Sonata in E flat major for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, No.2

Sonatensatz: Scherzo (arr. Kalman Berkes)

Lieder, Op. 91 (arr. Kalman Berkes)

 

Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the 50n of Johann Jakob Brahms, a double-bass player, and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years his senior. As was 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 his obvious interest in the piano led to lessons on the instrument from an inspiring teacher and his first modest appearance on the concert platform at the age often. From this time onwards he became a pupil of Eduard Marxsen, who gave him a firm grounding in classical technique, while he earned money for his family by playing the piano in establishments of doubtful reputation in the St Pauli district of the port, frequented largely by sailors and others in search of amusement. By the age of fifteen he had given his first 5010 concert as a pianist.

 

In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard

Remenyi, 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 then established in Dusseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Dusseldorf to help Schumann's wife Clara and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.

 

Further concert activity and his association with Joachim and Clara Schumann allowed Brahms to meet many of the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 he took a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, 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 time in Hamburg, where his ambitions were always to centre.

 

Brahms first visited Vienna in 1862, giving concerts there and meeting during the course of the winter the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion. The following year brought appointment as conductor of the Vienna Singakademie for the season and in 1864 he again spent the winter in the city, a pattern repeated in the following years until he finally took up permanent residence there in 1869. For the rest of his life he remained a citizen of Vienna, travelling often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, and generally spending the summer months in the country, where he might concentrate on composition without undue disturbance. He came in some ways to occupy a position similar to Beethoven in the musical life of the city, his notorious rudeness generally tolerated and his bachelor habits indulged by an admiring circle of friends. He died in Vienna in 1897.

 

In the music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came to occupy a position in direct antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen in Beethoven's great Choral Symphony the last word in symphonic music. The music of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form of music-drama of which he was the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forward in the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra-musical. Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion of pure or abstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. The distinction was in some ways an artifical one. Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, 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 many contemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, a future Schumann had prophesied for him 23 years before the first symphony was written. Brahms made important additions to the repertoire of German song and to chamber music, in both respects continuing a tradition to which Schumann had notably contributed. In all his music there is a remarkable combination of traditional form and a new originality of musical language that enabled Schoenberg to sense in him a very different kind of music of the future.

 

The two Clarinet Sonatas, Opus 120 were written in 1894 for the clarinettist Richard Muhlfeld, who had first served as a violinist in the Meiningen Court Orchestra, before his appointment in 1879 as principal clarinettist there, his work involving also some assistance to the conductor Hans von Billow in sectional rehearsals. In 1890 Muhlfeld became music director of the court theatre and it was during a visit by Brahms to Meiningen in March the following year that von Billow's successor Fritz Steinbach persuaded him to hear Muhlfeld's clarinet playing. The result was the Clarinet Trio and Clarinet Quintet, written during the summer, the first performed by Muhlfeld with the composer and Robert Hausmann and the second with the Joachim Quartet in Berlin in December. Brahms first performed the two sonatas with Muhlfeld in Vienna on 7th January 1895, following this with further performances from which he derived considerable pleasure.

 

The Sonata in F minor, Opus 120, No.1, is introduced briefly by the piano, after which the clarinet states the principal theme, before adding characteristic arpeggio figuration to the piano version of the melody. The autumnal mood continues with the introduction of further thematic material, its development and recapitulation, and an expressive coda. The full piano textures and prevailing poignancy suggested by the timbre of the clarinet itself carry into the slow movement, Andante un poco adagio, after the shaft of sunlight that had marked the end of the first movement. Now there is a gently descending melodic contour at the outset, the piano figuration introducing semiquaver broken chords, as the mood brightens, through the mist of the season. The relative major key is continued in the delicate Allegretto grazioso, with its F minor trio section exploring the lower register of the clarinet against piano syncopation, before the A flat major opening material returns. The piano starts the final F major Vivace, a rondo that includes a minor second episode, after a first episode in contrasting triplet rhythm, which returns immediately after the second episode, followed by the principal theme.

 

The Sonata in E flat major, Opus 120, No. 2, offers immediately a theme the character of which is explained in the direction Allegro amabile, a mood that continues with the second subject, material duly developed and allowed a recapitulation in a closely woven texture of song. The movement ends gently, with a final unobtrusive recurrence of those cross-rhythms that are such a feature of Brahms's writing. There follows an Allegro appassionato in E flat minor, a form of scherzo typical of Brahms, with its richly textured piano writing. There is a contrasting B major trio section, marked Sostenuto, before the return of the opening section. The last movement, marked Andante con moto is in the form of a theme and variations. After the statement of the former, the first variation breaks the rhythm of the theme in a syncopated version of the material. A second variation introduces more elaborate piano figuration in answering arpeggios then taken up by the clarinet, as roles are reversed. Rapid figuration marks the third variation and this is followed by a return to syncopation, gently leading to an Allegro in the tonic minor key. The more passionate feeling relaxes into a serener treatment of the material with triplet accompanying clarinet rhythms, before the excitement returns to bring the sonata to an end.

 

The sonata movement or Sonatensatz belongs to a collaborative violin sonata written by Schumann, his pupil Albert Dietrich and the young Brahms in 1853 as a surprise for the violinist Joseph Joachim, who was to play in Dusseldorf that October. The first movement was by Dietrich, Schumann wrote an Intermezzo and

Finale, while Brahms contributed a Scherzo. The thematic material for the sonata was derived from Joachim's motto Frei abereinsam (Free but alone), from which the notes F-A-E are derived. To this Brahms later counterposed his own Frei aber froh (Free but happy), F-A-F.

 

The two songs that make up Opus 91, Gestillte Sehnsucht (Longing stilled) and

Joseph, lieber Joseph mein (Joseph, my dear Joseph), were written in 1884 and 1864 respectively, for alto, viola and piano. The second of these, which makes use of a traditional Christmas cradle-song, celebrated the birth of Joachim's first child. The first, written twenty years later, came in the aftermath of Joachim's divorce proceedings in 1880 in which Brahms had tactlessly become involved by writing a letter of sympathy to Joachim's wife, the contralto Amalie Joachim, who used it as evidence of her husband's unreasonable behaviour. The couple separated, although Joachim had lost his case against his wife, whom he had accused of infidelity with the publisher Simrock, and the consequent breach in relations with Brahms was only partially healed through the intercession of the Herzogenbergs, friends of both Joachim and Brahms.

 

 


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