Everything BRAHMS - on Classical TV

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Your destination for the music of Johannes Brahms, as well as videos, news links and essays - all on Classical TV... 

 

 


 

 

WATCH BRAHMS VIDEO PERFORMANCES:

 

 

Watch Brahms' Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op. 87

The Fontenay Trio - Wolf Harden (piano), Michael Mucke (violin) and Niklas Schmidit (cello) - perform Mozart's Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502, Henze's Kammersonate and Brahms' Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op. 87.

 

Music by Brahms, performed by Cristina Ortiz

The Brazilian pianist plays a program of Brahms, Mendelssohn, Albeniz and Debussy in this live recording of a recital she gave during the Munich Klaviersommer.

 

Watch Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Fontenay Trio

Wolf Harden (piano), Michael Mucke (violin) and Niklas Schmidit (cello) perform Mozart's Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502, Hans Werner Henze's Kammersonate, and Brahms' Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op. 87. In a live recording, Paul Gulda and Roland Batik perform Miles Davis's classic "All Blues," Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and Batik's composition Impressions.

 

 


 

 

Johannes Brahms: the Last Romantic? The First Modern?

 

Michael Clive muses on Brahms’ place in the history of music — and the reason why he grew his beard.

 

Not that we need mnemonics to remind us of Johannes Brahms’ magisterial position in music history, but the literature is full of them: with Bach and Beethoven, he is one of the “three B’s.” With Bach and Haydn, he is one of the German-language composers to earn the respectful appellation “Vater,” or father. And then there’s the enduring image of Brahms looking wise and severe with his bushy white beard, somehow reminiscent of Karl Marx — so formidable that it’s a bit startling to see earlier images of the clean-shaven young Brahms with refined, delicate features and really good hair.

 

Both the poetic-looking younger Brahms and the curmudgeonly-looking bearded Brahms bore a heavy burden of expected greatness. After piano studies with two prominent piano pedagogues, Brahms gave a solo concert at the age of 15. Five years later, Schumann published articles calling him a genius and praising his compositions. But the romantic era needed more than just another genius composer-pianist. Beethoven had died in 1827, six years before Brahms’ birth, and while Beethoven’s monumental achievements made romanticism possible, they also lay like a gauntlet flung at the feet of every composer who followed him — especially those who undertook symphonies. Where was the composer who could build upon Beethoven’s Ninth?

 

In his twenties Brahms’ success mounted steadily, and he transitioned from busy and respected musician to famous young composer. At the age of 22 he was soloist in the premiere of his first piano concerto under the baton of Josef Joachim. All the unique character of the Brahms sound was richly evident: richly layered and sensuous, combining surface beauty with extremely rich, dense thematic development. Brahmsian mastery of thematic development is so inventive and sure-footed that it suggests the facility of baroque masters who could concoct a fugue out of virtually any subject, but the esthetic effect is quite the opposite: in place of driving rhythm there is a lush, late-romantic flow. No composer ever had a surer sense of what note to put next.

 

There is also a sense of importance that declares itself along with Brahms’ thematic materials. Even in smaller-scaled works like sonatas and chamber music, but especially in orchestral pieces, Brahms’ music seems symphonic in its construction and its gravitas — supporting the hopes of the critics who looked to him to fulfill the promise of post-Beethoven romanticism. As he continued to gain stature through his 30s and 40s, they increasingly wondered: when would Brahms write a symphony? Although he began sketching initial themes as early as 1855, it wasn’t until 1876, when he was 43, that Brahms finally unveiled his great Symphony No. 1 in c minor. There are convincing accounts of his self-imposed isolation at his country house in the Tyrolean Alps, reworking the score and fretting over its readiness. Around the same time, Brahms grew his beard. (Coincidence? Probably, though stories persist that it symbolized his becoming a symphonist.)

 

In the wake of his first symphony’s enormous success, Brahms could hardly breathe easier. The composer and critic Hans von Bülow instantly captured the public’s thinking when he dubbed it “the tenth,” referring to Beethoven’s nine. How to follow an act like that? While working on his ravishing second symphony, Brahms suffered the same anxieties all over again.

 

While Brahms never wrote for the stage, his catalog includes songs, chamber and choral works as well as three concertos and four symphonies that are absolute staples of every orchestra’s standard repertoire. Listening to them in the twenty-first century, their composer’s mastery is clear — as is their place in a pivotal time for music. The lyrical sensuousness of his music comes more from flowing, layered manipulation and development of his melodic lines than from the melodies themselves. His assured handling of harmony left little room for further development of the late romantic principles of harmonics. Brahms died in 1897; less than a decade later, Arnold Schoenberg introduced his radical experiments that shattered existing notions of tonality and development.

 

 


 

SEVEN FACTS ABOUT BRAHMS' LIFE:

 

 

As an artist, Brahms was a perfectionist; he went as far as to destroy 20 of his early string quartets before releasing his first. Who knows how many other pieces ended up in the fire place?

 

With a letter of introduction in hand, a gutsy 20-year-old Brahms knocked on the door of the Schumann residence; Schumann subsequently published a glowing profile of Brahms, announcing his impending success as a career musician and composer.

 

As a close friend of the Schumann couple, Brahms developed a strong relationship with Clara Wieck Schumann, even though she was 14 years older than him; Brahms worked with Clara upon Schumann's death to promote the work of the composer he so admired.

 

The New German School of music - big-wig names of the movement included Liszt and Wagner - branded Brahms' work "old-fashioned." Ouch... To be fair, Brahms once made a public showing of falling asleep during a Liszt performance. Brahms later attempted, and failed, to organize a protest against Wagner's music and the New German School.

 

Brahms holds ownership of the earliest recording by a major composer: In 1889, a representative of Thomas Edison propositioned Brahms in Vienna to record a piano version of his Hungarian dance.

 

Certain press outlets had a propensity to publish caricatures of Brahms that "particularly took into account his style of walking with his hands firmly behind his back," so said a former student.

 

By the 1860s, Brahms was a substantial success, but maintained an inelaborate lifestyle; he regularly, and anonymously, donated money to support young musicians.

 

 


 

 

BRAHMS IN THE NEWS

 

"Struggle and Triumph"

In the First Symphony, Brahms's experience shows The first symphony by Johannes Brahms took about 14 years to complete and generated one of the most commonly cited remarks in music history.

 

"Master class with Bernard Haitink, or, the Brahms Third is hard"

This video — a master class for young conductors led by the venerable Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink — provides a fascinating and quick look into the trials and tribulations of conducting Brahms’ Third Symphony.

 

New Guardian review of Brahm string quintet recordings, No. 1 in F major and No. 2 in G major

The Guardian discusses the Nash Ensemble CD recording of Brahms's two string quintets - which "brought together two world-class viola players, soloists in their own right but also natural chamber musicians ... These players never lose sight of the music's earthy, Slavic origins."

 

A New York Times review of a Brahm's Clarinet Trio in A minor and Clarinet Quintet in B minor recording

Described by Brahms as “twin pieces of foolishness,” the pieces take on new life performed by the "Emerson String Quartet and the clarinetist David Shifrin eloquently performed at the Rose Theater on Sunday afternoon, the second all-Brahms concert the Emerson has given this season."

 

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra takes on Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem

Featuring soprano Twyla Robinson and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Robert Spano, released a studio recording of the Brahms composition. The NY Times also discusses the Orchestra's competition in the form of a 1983 recording.

 

 


 

 

BOB HUGHES' SIX DEGREES OF MOZART - FOR BRAHMS

 

As part of All-Time Classics, we bring you "Six Degrees of Mozart" ... for Brahms. The great Mozart's musical, and sometimes personal, influence is pretty much everywhere imaginable. See where Brahms falls in the web of Mozart:

 

* Like Mozart, Brahms was a piano player from a young age; rather than playing at court, however, Brahms often entertained patrons in restaurants.

 

* A century after Mozart's death Brahms paid tribute to him by writing a clarinet quintet – as Mozart did – and in the opening of the adagio Brahms used the opening three notes of Mozart's clarinet quintet.

 

* Of the great Austro-German composers of the classical and Romantic eras, only Mozart, Brahms and Bruckner wrote requiems.

 

* Although Brahms did not write any operas, he was in awe of what Mozart accomplished in the form; in a letter to a friend he wrote: "Look at Idomeneo! … a miracle and full of freshness…What beautiful dissonances, what harmony!"

 

* Brahms considered Le nozze di Figaro inapproachably great; to composer Richard Heuberger, he wrote, "It is simply incomprehensible how anybody was able to create something of such absolute perfection, never has anything like this been made, not even by Beethoven."

 

* Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann that the playing of Mozart's piano concertos "is like scooping from a real Fountain of Youth."

 

 


 

 

BRAHMS LINKS

 

"Johannes Brahms Biography Traditional Music, Romantic Passion," from Favorite Classical Composers