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Johannes Brahms & Bach

Brahms and Wittgenstein (SlightlyO/T)

Teri Noel Towe wrote (October 1, 2004):
< A related but opposite charge has been leveled at Brahms' piano music: the problem there being that he was such a good pianist that the physical difficulties he wrote into the music (irrelevant to his own technique) flummox other people. >
I have the following bit of information only anecdotally. Perhaps someone who knows significantly more about Brahms than I do could clarify, refine, confirm, or refute this tidbit:

Many years ago, I was told that Brahms, who essentially was self taught as a pianist, fingered every key as if it were C Major.

Perhaps if one fingers his music that way, it is "easier."

< p.s. How are Paul Wittgenstein's recording(s) of the Ravel LH concerto? I haven't heard them yet, but I read somewhere recently that it was something of a mess. That would be a case where the composer and the dedicatee were both unable to do the piece justice as players, yet the masterpiece still came into existence.... >
They are best described as uneven. The Bach-BrahmsChaconne, for istance, cannot hold a candle against Sokolov's astonishing recording. Nevertheless, the Wittgenstein recordings remain valuable and compelling documents. If they have not been transferred to CD, they certainly ought to be.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 1, 2004):
< I have the following bit of information only anecdotally. Perhaps someone who knows significantly more about Brahms than I do could clarify, refine, confirm, or refute this tidbit:
Many years ago, I was told that Brahms, who essentially was self taught as a pianist, fingered every key as if it were C Major.
Perhaps if one fingers his music that way, it is "easier." >
The problem is more in the big stuff to do with the arm motions, and the thick handfuls of notes, and the leaps, and the wide stretches within each hand, than in the fingering of scale passages. There's so much in octaves, and in chords in each hand as the targets of leaps...a minefield. (Take, for example, the "Handel" and "Paganini" variations where some of the figurations are just plain anti-ergonomic to the hands.) Go buy the Katchen set of it all, and marvel!

Have you gone over to see Irving Berlin's piano at the Smithsonian? It was on display there a couple of years ago and might still be. He played everything in F#, and had a lever to shift the keyboard higher or lower so it would sound in different keys.

 

OT: Bach/Brahms Chaconne

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 150 - Discussions Part 3

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 4, 2005):
[To Francis Browne] There is another rendition of the Ciacona that hasn't been mentioned yet. That is brahms's conclusion of his Fourth Symphony, in which he borrows the theme (of the Ciacona[?]) and does his own Orchestral Ciacona on it.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
I have listened to Leonhardt [4] (which includes Herreweghe directing Collegium Vocale Ghent), Leusink [10] and Rilling [2]. All enjoyable performances. I can see why its authenticity has been called into question but it is still very beautiful music. The bass of the last movement (Chaconne) was used by Brahms (with modification) for the last movement of Symphony 4 (which is also a Chaconne).

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To John Pike] Brahms was very interested in Bach's use of passacaglia. He arranged the D minor solo violin Chaconne for left-hand piano.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Indeed............ So he could play it for himself when Joseph Joachim wasn't around to play the original for him.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 7, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Not just that, but also wrote cadences and excercises for both left hand and both hands for Bach Keyboard Concerti (especially BWV 1052).

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 6, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< Brahms was very interested in Bach's use of passacaglia. He arranged the D minor solo violin Chaconne for left-hand piano. >
Yes, that's a good arrangement if maybe (arguably) a bit too restrained! Doesn't get recorded very often, and it doesn't sound like Brahms. And then for a recital some years ago I made a re-arrangement of it for either fortepiano or harpsichord, two hands, working from both the Brahms version and the original.....

There's a fine new harpsichord arrangement of that whole violin sonata, including the Chaconne, transposed to A minor and treating some of the figuration differently. That's by Lars-Ulrik Mortensen and it's published in the Festschrift for Leonhardt's 75th birthday, last year: The Harpsichord in Baroque Europe edited by Hogwood.
http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_KeybBE.html

And of course, various other early-keyboard specialists have recorded their own arrangements or improvisations of that Chaconne, variously in D minor, A minor, or G minor. That is, there are lots of pseudo-18th-century keyboard alternatives to the ubiquitous Busoni arrangement (which I happen to enjoy anyway in its different style...it's authentically late-19th-century....).

Dorian Gray wrote (January 6, 2005):
Brahms himself was unsatisfied with his version (as with just about everything else he wrote). He said that perhaps it was best just to let the harmonies of the Chaccone simply ring in one's mind, if one did not have a fine violinist at hand. I have to concur wholeheartedly with the genius, and comfort myself with the fact that I can enjoy its beauties whenever I am so inclined without having to imagine them. :)

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 7, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Nor do the other Excercises, of which the aforementioned arrangement is a part.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 7, 2005):
Brahms Chaconne on Bach

I wonder, since it has been brought up (by me and others) what you all think of Brahms's Chaconne based on the last movement of Bach's Kantate BWV 150? I myself find it (as well as Movement I) the best parts of his Sinfonie Nr. 4 e-Moll Op. 98.

As far as interpreters, I like Sir Charles Mackerris's and Herbert van Karajan's recordings very much. I like the former because they are much more faithful to the works (especially in the Orchestration, especially since they are intended to recreate the Meiningen performances of Brahms's Symphonies), and the latter because of the sheer sound produced.

Responses are welcome.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 7, 2005):
Here is an excerpt from an article that even points to other possible connections with the Goldberg Variations as well:

>>In the finale of the Fourth Symphony,...Brahms drew on the formal articulations of Bach's Passacaglia for organ and Chaconne for solo violin, the second of which he had already arranged for piano left hand, while writing 30 variations and coda, the number (minus da capo) of the Goldberg Variations. There is a 'middle section' of slow variations, all but one in the major (12-15, the last two with 'Wagnerian' brass), after which the theme returns nearly unvaried (16); this return halfway through the set suggests the 'Ouverture' of the second half of the Goldberg set. A further return to the theme and to the rhetoric of the first two variations (23-5) immediately follows the 'scherzo' variation (22). Other variations deliberately recall the first movement of the
symphony: 10, with its antiphonal echoes, strange harmonies, crescendos on a single chord; and especially the final group, 28-30, which brings back the descending 3rds of the opening theme.<<

[Elaine Sisman from Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 1/6/05]

Jim Groeneveld wrote (January 7, 2005):
Can anyone tell me why Brahms wrote just for the left hand? Did he do it for himself? Was he unable to play with his right hand at a certain time? With what hand he write the music?

John Pike wrote (January 7, 2005):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] I think it's wonderful, too. I am a great fan of Brahms, and of the symphonies in particular.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (January 8, 2005):
[To Jim Groeneveld] From what I have read and heard, it was for two reasons:

1.) Because that was the novelty thing to do when he wrote it.

2.) Like Ravel, he had a friend who was a left-handed Pianist.

 

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