About this Recording
8.550355 - BRAHMS, J.: 10 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 / 16 Waltzes, Op. 39 (Biret)

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Waltzes / Valses / Walzer, Op. 39
Hungarian Dances / Danses hongroises / Ungarische Tänze

Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of Hamburg, 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 fifteen 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 tor hirn 23 years before the first symphony was written.

Brahms showed an early interest in Hungarian gypsy music, to which he had been introduced by his early acquaintance with Remenyi and his continuing friendship with Joseph Joachim, whose background was similar. In the 1850 she played gypsy melodies on the piano, some of which were never written down. The group of ten Hungarian Dances for solo piano was published in 1872, after earlier rejection of a smaller group of dances by a less acute publisher than Simrock, who issued the first set of dances in a piano duet version in 1869. It is thought that the original version was for solo piano, a form in which they had clearly long been known to those in Brahms's circle of friends. To the composer these dances were arrangements of what was then thought to be Hungarian folk music, although later research, in particular by Bela Bartók and Zoltan Kodaly was to establish this kind of music as simply part of popular Hungarian art music. Whatever the derivation of their rhythmic and melodic material, some of it remembered from the playing of Remenyi or heard in casual cafe performance, the Hungarian Dances are unmistakably stamped with the musical personality of Brahms.

The set of ten Hungarian dances opens with the famous G minor dance, followed by a D minor dance, with a central D major episode, and a third in D minor, with a lively D major middle section. The fourth dance, in F sharp minor, is of a more expressive cast, leading to a more passionate companion in the same key. The sixth of the set, in D flat major, frames a slower C sharp minor section in livelier outer sections, leading to the rhythmic seventh dance and an eighth in A minor in the rhythm of the first. A dance in E minor is succeeded by the final rapid E major that rounds of the work.

The sixteen Waltzes that form Opus 39 were written in Vienna in 1864 and published two years later with a dedication to the critic Eduard Hanslick, who welcomed such an unexpected gift from a serious, North German composer, who might have been supposed incapable of such Viennese abandon. If the great symphonies of Brahms continue the tradition of Schubert, they may be imagined as a tribute to the city where the compose was now to make his home.

The original version seems to be that for piano duet, a form that had an immediate popular commercial attraction and would have provided Hanslick with music to share with young ladies of his acquaintance, with whom he was accustomed to play duets. The Waltzes are in a simpler and shorter form than the slightly more complex Hungarian Dances.

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

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