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ClassicsOnline Home » BRAHMS: Piano Sonata No. 3 / SCHUMANN: Piano Sonata No. 2
Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897) Piano Sonata No.3 in F Minor, Op. 5
Robert Schumann (1810 -1856) Piano Sonata No.2 in G Minor, Op. 22
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 for him 23 years before the first symphony was written.
The third of the three piano sonatas that Brahms wrote, the Sonata in F minor, Opus 5, was composed during 1853 and published in the following year with a dedication to Countess Ida von Hohenthal, an influential figure in Leipzig who employed the composer's younger brother Fritz as music-teacher to her children. The impressive opening, leading to a second element of quiet intensity, is followed by a gently lyrical second subject in A flat major, while the romantic central development finds a place for a melody aptly marked quasi cello.
The second movement, marked Andante espressiva, is headed by a verse by the poet Sternau:
Der Abend dammert, das Mondlicht scheint,
Da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint
Und halten sich selig umfangen
(Evening grows dark, the moonlight shines,
Two hearts are made one in love
Embraced in happiness)
The first theme, repeated, is followed by a second delicate melody. There is a passionate central section before the return of the first themes and a final moving passage with marked dynamic contrasts, ending with harmonious and full arpeggiated chords.
A rapid arpeggio introduces the Scherza with much of the waltz about it. To this the sustained chords of the Trio offer a contrast. The fourth movement Intermezza, subtitled Rückblick (Retrospect), looks back principally at the slow movement, with an ominous accompanying drum figure The Finale, a rondo, starts with its principal theme, in F minor, energetic enough but no violent interruption to the mood of the Intermezzo. The expressive first episode in F major is answered by a developed version of the rondo theme and a chordal episode in D flat major, the whole capped by a triumphant F major coda.
Robert Schumann must seem in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism in his music and in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature, and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and editor of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, a journal launched in 1834.
After a period at university, to satisfy the ambitions of his now widowed mother, while still showing the wide interests of a dilettante, Schumann turned more fully to music under the tuition of Friedrich Wieck, a famous teacher whose energies had been largely directed towards the training of his daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. The romance that led in 1840 to their marriage, in spite of the bitter opposition of Wieck, was followed by a period in which Clara's career as a pianist had, in some way, to be reconciled with her husband's ambitions and the demands of a growing family. A weakness in the fingers had caused Schumann to give up the idea of becoming a virtuoso pianist, but he drew attention as a writer on musical matters and, increasingly, as a composer. His final position in Düsseldorf as director of music was not successful, however, and culminated in an attempt at suicide, insanity and death in 1856.
Much of Schumann's piano music was written in the 1830s. The year of his marriage was a year of song, followed by attempts at works on a much larger scale, with the encouragement of his wife. Early attempts at writing piano sonatas were largely unfinished, until the Sonata in F sharp minor, published in 1836 with a dedication to Clara Wieck. In the same year Schumann published a Concert sans orchestre in F minor, re-issued with an additional movement in 1853 as his third piano sonata. The Sonata No 2 in G minor, Opus 22, was apparently written over a number of years. The second movement Andantino was composed in June 1830, the first and third movements in June 1833 and the original demanding Finale in October 1835. The alternative Finale, written after the objections of Clara Wieck that the original Presto passionato was far too difficult, was composed in Vienna in December 1838 The sonata was published the following year. The first movement, So rasch wie moglich, as fast as possible, has a first subject melody based on the descending scale, with a broken chord left-hand accompaniment. The movement is in the established tripartite sonata-allegro form, with a central development and final recapitulation, ending in a rapid coda. The gentle Andantino offers a lyrical melody over a repeated chordal accompaniment. The Scherzo has all the energy of Florestan, the pseudonym used by Schumann to indicate the passionate and impulsive side of his character, in his writing and in his music, in contrast with the gentler and more sober Eusebius. The original finale, published posthumously in 1866, represents Florestan at his wildest, calling for the greatest dexterity, agility and passion. The alternative Rondo is not without technical demands, increasing in speed to a prestissimo, a cadenza-like passage, and a conclusion marked immer schneller und schneller, ever faster and faster. It should be added that Clara Wieck expressed the greatest admiration for a work which, for her, expressed so clearly Schumann's whole being. Her criticisms of the original finale arose from her fear that the public and even connoisseurs would not understand it.
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret started to learn the piano at the age of three and later studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger, graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. A pupil of Alfred Cortot and of Wilhelm Kempff, she embarked on her career as a soloist at the age of sixteen, appearing with major orchestras in the principal musical centres of the world, in collaboration with conductors of the greatest distinction. To many festival appearances may be added membership of juries for international piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians and Busoni Competitions. She has received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award in Boston, the Harriet Cohen / Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal in London, the Polish Artistic Merit Award and the French Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Merite. Her more than sixty records include the first recording of Liszt's transcription of the symphonies of Beethoven, and for Naxos the complete piano works of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninov, with a Marco Polo disc of the piano compositions and transcriptions of her mentor Wilhelm Kempf.
A prize-winner on no less than seventeen occasions in international competitions, the young German pianist Bernd Glemser was born in Dürbheim and was still a pupil of Vitalij Margulis when he was appointed professor at the Saarbrücken Musikhochschule, in succession to Andor Foldes, himself the successor of Walter Gieseking. In 1992 he won the Andor Foldes Prize and in 1993 the first European Pianists' Prize. With a wide repertoire ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary, Bemd Glemser has a particular affection for the virtuoso music of the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, the work of Liszt, Tausig, Godowski, Busoni, and especially that of Rachmaninov. His career has brought appearances at major music festivals and leading concert halls throughout Europe and further afield.
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