Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Monday - Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

I'm having a black cloud day. Today I'll blame it on the nasty weather we're having--forty degrees and raining. Blech. But a perfect composer to listen to when I want to revel in melancholy is Brahms--such wonderful, passionate music carefully crafted around a sound technical structure (and often in a minor key, which fits the bill perfectly today)!

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833 to a double-bass playing father and seamstress mother. At about age ten, he began formally studying piano and music theory with Eduard Marxsen, a noted pianist and composer of the day whose main claim to fame today is that he was the teacher of Brahms. In 1853, Brahms's compositions began being published, and he began a close friendship with composers Robert and Clara Schumann. From 1862 until his death 1897 from liver cancer, he lived in Vienna, working as composer, performer, and conductor.

Brahms wasn't as prolific a composer, as, say, Mozart, but he did write thirteen major orchestral compositions as well as many chamber works for various combinations of instruments. In addition, his oeuvre includes about fifty pieces for solo piano, about two hundred art songs, about sixty for vocal quartet, and some choral music.

Two of my favorite violin compositions by this composer are the Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 102 and the Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano, Op.78.

The sonata may be in a major key, but doesn't mean it doesn't have some real heart-breaking passages. You can hear the longing right at the opening of the piece in the first theme played by the violin:

Played here by Maxim Vengerov. Unfortunately the pianist didn't get billed (nor did the all-important page turner, for that matter) and I have no idea who it might be. The second half of the first movement is here.

To my knowledge Vengerov hasn't yet released a CD of this sonata, though he does have recordings of Brahms's second and third sonatas. The one I've heard most often is Itzahk Perlman's recording with the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy on piano, but it's not angsty enough for my taste!

The double concerto--for violin, cello, and orchestra--now, that one has all the angst one could ask for built right in to every line from the dramatic opening bars played by the orchestra:

Young though they may be (perhaps because they are closer to those uneasy, angst-ridden teen years?), Julia Fischer and especially Daniel Müller-Schott do a stupendous job of bringing this gorgeous piece of music to life. The rest of the first movement is here, and the reflective second and fiery third movement can be found here and here, respectively.

Fischer and Müller-Schott have a recording of the concerto with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Yakov Kreizberg.

Wishing you plenty of Brahms on any black cloud days you may have.
"It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table." ~Johannes Brahms


LB said...

Thanks for another interesting and edifying glimpse into the wonderful world of music.

Yat-Yee said...

Brahms is on the top of my list. I love his harmonies, I love his passion that is never indulgent but with control, in the best sense of the word. Thanks for sharing these particular pieces. I think I'll put on the violin sonatas now. Mine are by Perlman and Ashkanazy.

Oh, do you also not love the German Requiem?

Barb said...

Nice post fiddler on my fellow "Hamburger". I had this phase when I had to buy all this Brahms music, but I admit that I do not listen too often, as it has the tendency to somehow make me depressed. I wonder if that was the typical gray weather of Hamburg...

Fiddler said...

Yat-Yee, I do love the German Requiem. Hadn't listened to it in a long time, but put it on my iPod today and listened to the whole thing twice. I played it years and years ago and now think I want to get the score and study it.

Barb, Brahms almost never gets me out of a funk, but he is great company when I'm in one. : )

Suji said...

Oh I do wish you'd write a music curriculum for homeschoolers :) We're hoping to unofficially use your Music Mondays posts so I really owe you a couple of coffees at least. Thanks Christina.