About this Recording
8.553726 - BRAHMS, J.: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 4 (Matthies, Köhn)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Music for Piano Duet
Serenade No.1 in D major, Op.11
Serenade No.2 in A major, Op.16
(arranged by Brahms for piano duet)

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833, the son of a double-bass player and his much older wife, a seamstress. His childhood was spent in relative poverty, and his early studies in music, as a pianist rather than as a string-player, developed his talent to such an extent that there was talk of touring as a prodigy at the age of eleven. It was Eduard Marxsen who gave him a grounding in the technical basis of composition. while the boy helped his family by playing the piano in dockside taverns.

In 1851 Brahms met the émigré Hungarian violinist Reményi, who introduced him to Hungarian dance music that had a later influence on his work. Two years later he set out in his company on his first concert tour, their journey taking them, on the recommendation of the Hungarian violinist Joachim, to Weimar, where Franz Liszt held court and might have been expected to show particular favour to a fellow-countryman. Reményi profited from the visit, but Brahms, with a lack of tact that was later accentuated, failed to impress the Master. Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns, through Joachim's agency. The meeting was a fruitful one.

In 1850 Schumann had taken up the offer from the previous incumbent, Ferdinand Hiller, of the position of municipal director of music in Düsseldorf, the first official appointment of his career and the last. Now in the music of Brahms he detected a promise of greatness and published his views in the journal he had once edited, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, declaring Brahms the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. In the following year Schumann, who had long suffered from intermittent periods of intense depression, attempted suicide. His final years, until his death in 1856, were to be spent in an asylum, while Brahms rallied to the support of Schumann's wife, the gifted pianist Clara Schumann, and her young family, remaining a firm friend until her death in 1896, shortly before his own in the following year.

Brahms had always hoped that sooner or later he would be able to return in triumph to a position of distinction in the musical life of Hamburg. This ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled in Vienna, intermittently from 1863 and definitively in 1869, establishing himself there and seeming to many to fulfil Schumann's early prophecy. ln him his supporters, including, above all, the distinguished critic and writer Eduard Hanslick, saw a true successor to Beethoven and a champion of music untrammelled by extra-musical associations, of pure music, as opposed to the Music of the Future promoted by Wagner and Liszt, a path to which Joachim and Brahms both later publicly expressed their opposition.

In 1857 Brahms had accepted an invitation to visit the court of Detmold. Clara Schumann had been giving lessons there to Princess Frederike, but after the death of Robert Schumann she had handed over her responsibilities to Brahms. In Detmold he was offered employment for three months as pianist and chorus conductor, an offer he gladly accepted. He retumed to Detmold in the autumn of 1858 and 1859, thereafter preferring to devote his time to composition without the limitations and distractions offered there. It was, however, during this period that he wrote his two orchestral Serenades. The first of these, the Serenade in D major, Opus 11, published with its companion in 1860, had its first official performance in Hanover, although it seems that it had been played through in Detmold in its original form as an octet by players from the Detmold court orchestra, led by the young concertrnaster Karl Bargheer, a pupil of Joachim. Clara Schumann in the same year, 1860, insisted that the Serenade should be played at a benefit concert in Vienna, if she was to take part, and continued to urge the two Serenades on other influential conductors. Both works were arranged by Brahms for piano duet, following his general custom of providing access to larger scale composition in four-hand arrangements for one or two pianos.

The D major Serenade is in six movements, largely following earlier tradition, and it owes something to Brahms's study of classical models. The surviving autograph of the orchestral version of the work suggests that it was conceived as a symphony-serenade, and in length, at least, it is ambitious. It starts in a happy, pastoral mood, to which a more ominous strain is added, in the tones of Beethoven, before becoming recognisably and unequivocally Brahms. Open D major chords in the secondo allow the entry of the horn melody, to be answered, in the primo, by the clarinet, with a due modulation to the dominant for secondary material, where Brahms's beloved cross-rhythms are introduced. The development modulates through D flat major to B flat and to G major, before the principal theme retums in its proper key once more. The lilting D minor first Scherzo touches a rustic mood in its B flat major trio section and is followed by a B flat major slow movement of classical contour, where the orchestral version finds characteristic use for the French homs, duly indicated in the piano-duet score. The G major Minuet provides peasant merriment, before moving on to something in a more poignant G minor, while the second Scherzo brings suggestions of Beethoven in pastoral mood. A final Rondo, with a cheerfully resilient principal theme, brings the work to an end.

The second of the pair, the Serenade No.2 in A major, Opus 16, was given its first public performance in Hamburg in 1860. The orchestral version is scored for wind instruments and lower strings, without violins. In a let ter to Joachim Brahms wrote of the great delight he had taken in the wnrk, as he arranged it for piano duet. In five movements, it starts with an Allegro moderato in which cross-rhythms make an early appearance, and allows the central A minor Adagio, in which Clara Schumann detected liturgical solemnity, to be preceded by a lively C major Scherzo, with an F major Trio, and followed by a D major Quasi Menuetto movement in 6/4 metre that nevertheless suggests something of the influence of Haydn. The work ends with a colourful Rondo that at once introduces varied rhythms, in its principal theme. Brahms revised the orchestral version of the Serenade, for which he had a particular fondness, in 1875.

Piano Duo Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn
The pianists Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn, both with individual solo careers, can1e together in 1986 to form a piano duo, Silke-Thora Matthies was born in Gütersloh, and studied in Detmold and at The Juilliard School in New York, winning fust prize at the New York Gina Bachauer Cornpetition and further awards in the Budapest Liszt-Bartók Competition, the Bordeaux Jeunes Solistes and the Cleveland, Ohio, Robert Casadesus Competition, She has recorded music ranging from Scarlatti to the contemporary and appeared as soloist and recitalist in Germany and abroad, Christian Kahn was born in Bochum and studied in Dortmund and Detmold, winning prizes in the Ramburg Steinway Piano Competition, the Dortmund International Schubert Competition, with awards from the Ramburg Oscar-und-Vera-Ritter- Stiftung and the Bonn German Music Competition. His career has taken him as soloist and recitalist to various countries of Europe and the Near East. As a duo the two players have won wide acclaim, with international prizes, and appearances in recital and as soloists. They have broadcast regularly and have been responsible for a number of first performances of music by notable contemporary composers.

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