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8.550353 - BRAHMS, J.: Piano Pieces, Op. 76 / Rhapsodies, Op. 79 / Fantasies, Op. 116 (Biret)

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Piano Pieces / Morceaux pour piano / Klavierstücke Op.76 / Two Rhapsodies / Deux rapsodies / Zwei Rhapsodien Op. 79 Fantasies / Fantaisies / Phantasien Op. 116

Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of Harnburg, the son 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 of ten. 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 fitteen he had given his first solo 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 Düsseldorf. 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 Düsseldorf to help his wife 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.

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 artificial 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.

The eight piano pieces that form Opus 76 were written fifteen years after the Paganini Variations, the last work Brahms had written for the piano. Published in two books, the pieces include four Capriccios and four Intermezzi and were completed in 1878 during summer months spent in the country at Pärtschach. The work was published the following year and given its first performance in Leipzig in 1880. The F sharp minor Capriccio that opens the first book, marked un poco agitato, offers a characteristic melody, from a texture of arpeggios, and the second, in B minor, a sprightly contrast. The A flat Intermezzo and the following Intermezzo in B flat are in a graceful mood, broken by the agitation of the C sharp minor Capriccio. The two following Intermezzi again offer a relaxation of tension, a mood continued in the busier textures of the final Capriccio of the set.

The Two Rhapsodies, Opus 79, were among the works Brahms w rote during another summer at Pärtschach in 1879. They were published in 1880 and dedicated to Elisabet von Herwgenberg, wife of an aristocrat of French ancestry, settled in Leipzig, where their house served as a centre for a circle of admirers of Brahms. While the texture and passion of the first Rhapsody may breathe the spirit of romanticism, the form is one of classical clarity, a rondo, in which the opening theme re-appears to frame more lyrical episodes, which finally predominate. The second of the pair, in G minor, is in classical sonata form, its passionate first theme contrasted with a second, marked misterioso.

The Phantasien, Opus 116, include seven pieces, three Capriccios and four intermezzi, and were written and published in 1892 during summer months spent at Ischl. The year had brought unhappiness, with the death of Elisabet von Herzogenberg in January and of his eider sister Elise, two years his senior, in June The set opens with an energetic D minor Capriccio, relaxing into an A minor Intermezzo. The third of the group, a G minor Capriccio, provides a passionately felt outer frame for a central E flat section, where, as so often in Brahms, contrasting rhythms are superimposed. The fourth piece is a slow E major Intermezzo, its E major conclusion leading to a graceful E minor companion- piece, and a third Intermezzo gently set in E major. Opus 116 ends with a stormier D minor Capriccio.

Idil Biret
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret began piano lessons at the age of three. She displayed an outstanding gift for music and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire with three first prizes when she was fifteen. She studied piano with Alfred Cortot and Wilhelm Kempff, and composition with Nadia Boulanger.

Since the age of sixteen she has performed in concerts around the world playing with major orchestras under the direction of conductors such as Monteux, Boult, Kempe, Sargent, de Burgos, Pritchard, Groves and Mackerras. She has participated in the festivals of Montreal, Persepolis, Royan, La Rochelle, Athens, Berlin, Gstaad and Istanbul. She was also invited to perform at the 85th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Backhaus and at the 90th birthday celebration of Wilhelm Kempff.

Idil Biret has received the Lily Boulanger Memorial Fund award (1954/1964) , the Harriet Cohen/Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal (1959), the Polish Artistical Merit Award (1974) and was named Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite (1976).

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