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Andreas Boyde Johannes Brahms: The Complete Works for Solo Piano - Vol. 4 OC 743 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 743
Release date03/05/2010
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Brahms, Johannes

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      Johannes Brahms: The Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol. 4
      Piano pieces op. 76 · Two Rhapsodies op. 79
      Fantasies op. 116
      Andreas Boyde, piano

      Andreas Boyde knows all about the dangers of “effective” Brahms recording: cheap showmanship, an excess of sentimentality and falsely understood “heaviness” too often kill the musical substance of Brahms’ music. Andreas Boyde’s approach could not be farther from this: his interpretations do not avail themselves of Brahms-clichés but fascinatingly reveal the structures of the composer’s works, enabling the soul of Brahms’ musical world to resound in the most natural manner possible.

      „Brahms’s return to solo piano works:
      Op. 76, Op. 79 and Op. 116

      Idyllic rural locations in the summer had a catalytic effect on Brahms as a composer; the lack of urban distractions and the beauty of his surroundings stimulated extraordinary productivity, and he would return to Vienna in time for autumn with numerous items ready for publication. In 1877–79, he summered in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, in Carinthia. This particular three-year period saw the completion of his Second Symphony, the violin concerto for Joseph Joachim and also the G major Violin Sonata. It also saw the completion of the Op. 76 Acht Klavierstücke [Tracks 1–8] in 1878 and, the following year, the Op. 79 Zwei Rhapsodien [Tracks 9–10] for solo piano.

      The completion of Op. 76 represented Brahms’ return to solo piano music after a gap of fifteen years. It is difficult to know why Brahms published no solo piano works between 1863 and 1878, namely after the Op. 35 Paganini Variations. These fifteen years were crucial ones in professional terms; they witnessed Brahms’s transformation from a rather awkward and virtually unknown figure into a composer of tremendous reputation who had proved his might across all genres with the exception of opera, a lion within European musical circles. Certainly Brahms wrote large amounts of music involving the piano in this period, including his extremely popular waltzes and also sizable chamber works; but given the sheer quantity of solo piano music from his younger, pre-Viennese days (and the fact that he was still a performing pianist to some extent), the eschewal of the genre for such a long period is noticeable.

      Following the interruption, it is clear that Brahms had thoroughly rethought his conception of solo piano music. While many elements of his compositional style remain recognizable from the ‘virtuoso’ days, the later piano works, Op. 76 to the final Op. 119 are not only more intimate in tone, but also much smaller in scale, as if the expressive intention of each piece has been highly concentrated. The scholar Karl Geiringer suggested that this turning away from a large-scale, orchestral mode of writing was at least in part because of Brahms’s decreasing technical ability as a pianist; however it is important to note that these pieces are shorter without necessarily being much easier. Certainly, accounts of Brahms’s own playing, particularly later in life, stress not his virtuosity or accuracy, but his expressivity (a friend, Richard Heuberger particularly recalled the deeply moving, intimate quality of his playing.) The pianist and composer Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, one of Brahms’s dearest friends and traditionally one of his most acute critics, was utterly charmed by these new works when Brahms played some of them to her on a visit in September 1878. While Brahms’s sonatas and variation sets tend to be admired, it is through the ‘small’ piano works that most pianists come to Brahms and develop their love of his music.

      In itself, the writing of small piano works was common during the nineteenth century – one need only think of Schumann’s famous collections such as Carnaval, or Chopin’s Nocturnes, or Grieg’s Lyric Suite, Schubert’s Moments Musicaux or even Beethoven’s late Bagatelles. But Brahms had not written piano miniatures since his Op. 10 Ballades. It has been suggested by Brahms’s first biographer and friend Max Kalbeck that Brahms’s concurrent work on the Schumann and Chopin Complete Editions inspired both the small scale and the intensely lyrical tone of the piano pieces, but the range of styles encompassed in Op. 76 also bear witness to Brahms’s familiarity with and love of Schubert and the much earlier composer François Couperin. Hence, the set functions almost like a catalogue of historical styles in smaller-scale piano writing: one can hear echoes of Schubert’s well-known F minor Moment musical in the delightful intermezzo Op. 76 No. 2; the scholar Denis Matthews has pointed out the affinity between Op. 76 No. 4 and Couperin’s Les Baricades Mystérieuses; Op. 76 No. 7 recalls the melody of Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55 No. 1, and in Op. 76 No. 6, Brahms even quotes himself, recalling a melody from one of his most popular sets of miniatures, the Op. 52 Liebeslieder-Walzer, specifically No. 17 Nicht wandle, mein Licht. Never had Brahms’s profound knowledge of musical literature borne such rich and varied fruit on such a small branch.

      A different approach is taken in the Op. 79 Rhapsodies, which are dedicated to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. These works are on a larger scale and much more unified in their tragic tone. In January 1880 Brahms premiered the Rhapsodies from manuscript at a concert dedicated to his own works that included the Second Symphony, the Triumphlied, and the Alt-Rhapsodie. In describing this concert, Max Kalbeck (Brahms’s first biographer) points out that Brahms used, at that stage, the title Caprice for the works. If the title of caprice was interchangeable with rhapsodie, what, indeed, is to be inferred from Brahms’s titles at all? It was wholly alien to his nature to use programmatic titles, hence he selected the most non-committal names he could find. The titles intermezzo, caprice and rhapsody have hardly any fixed definitions or formal models, hence Brahms could make of them what he willed. Certainly, the title intermezzo had strong associations with Schumann, who included many short intermezzi in his early piano works, and had also composed six larger-scale intermezzi in his Op. 4, not to forget the poetic source of his beloved song-cycle Dichterliebe, Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo. Brahms himself used the title in his Op. 5 Piano Sonata, in which an intermezzo precedes the finale, and also for the slow movement of his Op. 25 Piano Quartet. The caprice has strongest associations with fiendishly difficult solo violin writing (Paganini’s twenty-four Caprices are the most famous example), although virtuoso pianists also used the title for their showpieces. In both cases, Brahms retains some aspect of the older usage (slower tempi for the intermezzi, greater technical difficulty for the caprices). However, Brahms gives new significance to these titles, recasting the intermezzo and caprice as opposing partners in which the former is lyrical, the latter more agitato, but both share an intensely expressive and emotional world.

      Brahms similarly recast the rhapsody genre; this was typically a loosely-structured singlemovement work with some folk-character, e.g. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, or Dvor?ák’s Slavonic Rhapsodies. Brahms retained only the idea of a larger-scale single-movement form with no defined structure (something he had done previously with the Alto-Rhapsody op. 53) – but there is no question of the structure being loose. When he wrote to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg proposing the title of Rhapsody for these pieces, her reply revealed her sympathy with Brahms’s desire to conceal his intentions: ‘I am always most partial to the non-committal word Klavierstücke, just because it is non-committal; but probably that won’t do, in which case the name Rhapsodien is best, although the clearly defined form of both pieces seems somewhat at variance with one’s conception of a rhapsody.’

      Despite the shared titles of intermezzi and caprices between Op. 76 and Op. 116 [Tracks 11–17], the latter actually belong more to a final group of piano works together with Opp. 117-119 which appeared from November 1892 onwards. Op. 116 was, once again, composed mainly over a summer, but this time in Ischl (an Austrian spa town) in the summer of 1892. Unlike Op. 76, this set is far more coherent and connected; apart from something of a family resemblance between the thematic material of each piece (an insistence on falling thirds in the caprices, the use of motion in seconds tying together the intermezzi), the pieces are all in closely related keys of A, E, D and G, and overwhelmingly in the minor mode. Also, the emphasis has shifted; while Op. 76 is evenly split between slow and fast pieces, the balance in the seven pieces that constitute Op. 116 tips more towards the lyrical.

      While much of this essay has focussed on what has changed in Brahms’s piano writing, one key element has remained the same – the underlying principle of varying thematic material. So while Brahms never wrote a variation set for piano after 1863, all of these late works contain variations, reworkings and reassemblings of their thematic material, generating a musical prose which is characteristically Brahmsian. That said, the perception of Brahms’s outstanding compositional technique is emphatically secondary to the overwhelming mood of intimacy; these works, while they may impress, are written in order to move. Richard Heuberger felt that with these pieces, Brahms had moved from the ‘fresco’ to the ‘miniature’, from writing music of breadth to music of depth. Even though these late works are ‘smaller’, their thematic material is used with so much precision and economy that the resultant musical forms are compressed into the smallest dimensions, concentrating the emotional impact to the utmost. In all his works, early or late, for piano or for other media, one is reminded of a quotation Brahms copied as a young man into the compendia of sayings and aphorisms entitled Young Kreisler’s Treasure-Chest; a quotation from Johann Gottfried Herder which declares: ‘Everything is transformed, nothing dies. In beautiful transformation, loss becomes gain.’

      Natasha Loges

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
        Piano Pieces op. 76
        • 1.1. Capriccio. Un poco agitato03:09
        • 2.2. Capriccio. Allegretto non troppo03:29
        • 3.3. Intermezzo. Grazioso03:28
        • 4.4. Intermezzo. Allegretto grazioso03:09
        • 5.5. Capriccio. Agitato ma non troppo presto03:27
        • 6.6. Intermezzo. Andante con moto04:21
        • 7.7. Intermezzo. Moderato simplice03:25
        • 8.8. Capriccio. Grazioso ed un poco vivace03:45
      • Two Rhapsodies op. 79
        • 9.Rhapsody No. 108:40
        • 10.Rhapsody No. 206:37
      • Fantasies op. 116
        • 11.1. Capriccio. Presto energico02:24
        • 12.2. Intermezzo. Andante04:06
        • 13.3. Capriccio. Allegro passionato03:25
        • 14.4. Intermezzo. Adagio05:27
        • 15.5. Intermezzo. Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sent03:33
        • 16.6. Intermezzo. Andantino teneramente03:31
        • 17.7. Capriccio. Allegro agitato02:36
      • Total:01:08:32