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8.553426 - BRAHMS, J.: Waltzes / Cadenzas / Die schöne Magelone (Biret)

Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897)

Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897)

Four Songs from Die schöne Magelone



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. A§ 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 fol1owing two years, continuing al1 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 Hans1ick, who was to prove a doughty champion. The fol1owing 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 fol1owing years until he final1y took up permanent residence there in 1869. For the rest of his 1ife he remained a citizen of Vienna, travel1ing often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, and general1y 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 general1y 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 al1oy formed from the musical and extra- musical. Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hans1ick, 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, 1ike Beethoven's, was less 1iterary 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 twenty-three years before the first symphony was written.


Brahms spent some years of intermittent work on his first and, in fact, only song-cycle, a setting of fifteen poems drawn from the romantic writer Ludwig Tieck's retelling of the romance of Count Peter and the beautiful daughter of the King of Naples, Magelone, Wundersame Liebesgeschichte der schönen Magelone und des Grafen Peteraus der Provence (Wonderful Love Story of the Fair Magelone and Count Peter of Provence). In Tieck's work the poems serve as interludes in the telling of the story of Count Peter, who is victorious in tournaments before the King of Naples and wins the love of his daughter. The couple elope, but are separated in the forest. Count Peter, adrift at sea, falls captive to the Moors and becomes a slave of the Sultan, prey to the amorous intentions of the sultan's daughter sulima, through whose help he escapes, finally to be re-united in the forest with Magelone, who has waited for him during his two years of captivity and adventure. It has been suggested that, perhaps subsconsciously, Brahms was in some way aware of a parallel with his own early adventures and brief, unconsummated flirtations. The songs transcribed by Brahms for piano include the twelfth of the cycle, Muß es eine Trennung geben (Must there be a parting, to break a true heart?), with its lute-like arpeggios. The tenth song, Verzweiflung (Despair) comes as Count Peter is swept out to sea, in imminent danger of drowning, and in the eleventh, Wie schnell verschwindet (How quickly the light of day vanishes), all is darkness. The fourteenth song, Wie froh und frisch (How happy and lively my sense is now), marks the final passing of danger, the sea glowing in the reflected sunlight as the waves bear him horneward to his beloved.


The Waltzes, Opus 39, in the version for one pianist, were published in 1867 with a dedication to Eduard Hanslick, the writer and musician so unfairly parodied by Wagnerin The Mastersingers, where Beckmesser is a barely disguised representation of the critic. The first version of the Waltzes was in the form of a piano duet, completed in 1865. Other versions include the present one, for one pianist. There was also a simplified version, a concession to enthusiastic amateurs, and an arrangement of four of the waltzes for two pianos. Each waltz is a delightful miniature. Occasionally a Hungarian element appears and there is, in any case, considerable variety within the necessary triple metre of the dance. The set of waltzes enjoyed considerable popularity, an early tribute by Brahms to the city where he was to make his home.


The cadenzas Brahms wrote out for keyboard concertos by Bach, and Mozart were published for the first time in 1927, while those for Beethoven's G Major Piano Concerto were published originally in 1907. The cadenza for Bach's Concerto in D minor preserves something of the style and figuration of the concerto itself. The manuscript of the cadenzas to Mozart’s Concerto in G major, K. 453, carries a note of attribution from Clara Schumann and is clear enough in texture, with one or two chords that demand either a large hand or arpeggiation. The cadenza for the slow movement is marked quasi fantasia and brings an element of Brahmsian cross-rhythm. It exists in alternative versions. The rather more elaborate cadenza for Mozart's Concerto in D minor, K. 466, was used, in part, by Clara Schumann, as her note on the manuscript informs us. Brahms himself played the concerto in Hamburg in 1856 for the Mozart centenary celebrations. The cadenza for the first movement of Mozart's Concerto in C minor, K. 491 also carries a note of authentication from Clara Schumann, in whose possession, it can be presumed, these manuscripts once were.


For Beethoven' s Piano Concerto in C minor, Opus 37, there is a first movement cadenza of some elaboration which is wrongly attributed, the work of the pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles, interesting as an elaboration by a pupil of Beethoven himself, however different in style. The cadenzas for the first and third movements of Beethoven's Concerto in G major, Op. 58, are testimony to something of Brahms's own technical accomplishment as a pianist. He played the concerto in Bremen and again in Leipzig in 1855, and was the soloist again in the concerto in Detmold in 1857, when his playing led to his appointment at court. These and the other surviving cadenzas are reminders of the early career of Brahms as a pianist and his continuing activity in the concert-hall, although Hanslick, a strong enough supporter, found that Brahms, later in his career, while always deeply interesting as a player, was not always equally accurate.



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