Day 330: St. Anthony Variations, 16 Waltzes, Variations on a Theme by Schumann

BrahmsCD24I’m not as enamored with today’s piano music as I was yesterday’s, although it’s pretty.

It’s not just as intriguing or magical.

This might make good background music.

But it’s not compelling enough to be good active-listening music.

Not for me, anyway. You’re mileage may vary.

Here are the three two-piano compositions:

Variations on a theme by Haydn (“St. Anthony Chorale” Op. 56b for two pianos)

There’s a good article about this composition posted on The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra web site, part of which says:

The theme at the heart of Brahms’s piece is likely not the work of Joseph Haydn, despite the work’s title. It came to Brahms by way of an unpublished divertimento score, discovered in 1870 by the Viennese music librarian Carl Ferdinand Pohl while he was preparing a Haydn biography. Knowing Brahms’s fascination with early music, Pohl showed the composer the manuscript. Brahms was particularly struck by the movement headed “St. Anthony Chorale,” scored for eight wind instruments. Brahms copied out the chorale and returned to it in the summer of 1873 as the basis for the set of variations, fleshed out in parallel versions for two pianos (completed first, but given the secondary Opus number of 56b) and for orchestra.

If that’s true, Brahms was 40 when he composed these pieces of music.

16 Waltzes Op. 39 for piano four hands

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 is a set of 16 short waltzes for piano four hands written by Johannes Brahms. They were composed in 1865, and published two years later, dedicated to Eduard Hanslick. These waltzes were also arranged for piano solo by the composer, in two different versions – difficult and simplified. The three versions were published at the same time, and sold well, contrary to the composer’s expectations. In the solo versions, some of the keys were altered from the original duet version (the last four in the difficult version and No. 6 in the easy version). Waltz Number 15 in A major (or A-flat major) has acquired a life of its own. An arrangement of five of the waltzes (Nos. 1, 2, 11, 14, and 15) for two pianos, four hands was published after the composer’s death.

Brahms was 32 when he composed these waltzes.

Variations on a theme by Schumann Op. 23 for piano four hands

According to the web site IMSLP, these variations were composed in 1861. If that’s true, Brahms was 28.

Here are the four hands playing today’s music:

Bracha Eden piano
Alexander Tamier piano

Day 320: Piano Trio No. 2 & Horn Trio

BrahmsCD14Instant Brahms Favorite!

These trios are splendid, full of melody and pathos.

There are two compositions on today’s Brahms’ CD:



Piano Trio No. 2 in C Op. 87

Performed by:

Israel Piano Trio
Menahem Breuer violin
Marcel Bergman cello
Alexander Volkov piano

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Trio in C major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms was composed during 1880-2. It is scored for piano, violin and cello. It was first performed at a chamber music evening in Frankfurt-on-Main on 29 December 1882.

Brahms was 49 when he completed his Piano Trio.

Horn Trio in E flat Op. 40

Performed by The Nash Ensemble
Frank Lloyd horn
Marcia Crayford violin
Ian Brown piano

According to its entry on Wiki:

The Horn Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms is a chamber piece in four movements written for natural horn, violin, and piano. Composed in 1865, the work commemorates the death of Brahms’ mother, Christiane, earlier that year. However, it draws on a theme which Brahms had composed twelve years previously but did not publish at the time. The work was first performed in Zurich on November 28, 1865, and was published a year later in November 1866. The Horn Trio was the last chamber piece Brahms wrote for the next eight years.

Brahms chose to write the work for natural horn rather than valve horn despite the fact that the valve horn was becoming more common. The timbre of the natural horn is more somber and melancholic than the valve horn and creates a much different mood. Nineteenth-century listeners associated the sound of the natural horn with nature and the calls of the hunt. Fittingly, Brahms once said that the opening theme of the first movement came to him while he was walking through the woods. Brahms also learned natural horn (as well as piano and cello) as a child, which may be another reason why he chose to write for these instruments following the death of his mother.

Brahms was 32 when he composed the Horn Trio.

Both are equally wonderful. It would be hard for me to pick between the two, although I am partial to the horn. It’s one of the most soothing sounds on the planet. So the Horn trio would probably get the nod.

Day 317: Cello Sonatas

BrahmsCD11I like things that are different.

Like most people who dig underground/alternative music, musicians, authors, books, or art, I like discovering stuff that’s a step or two outside the norm.

When it comes to music, I still flip out over Led Zeppelin, Rush, Queen, ELP, Yes, Bad Company, the Beatles, and Alice Cooper. But when I discover an obscure passage of music, or a quirky band – or rare instrument like the glass harmonica, which I discovered listening to Mozart’s compositions a few years back – I get all tingly.

That goes double for Classical music. Symphony after symphony after opera after opera bores me to tears. Especially if they all sound the same, which they often do.

That’s why I like piano sonatas, cello sonatas, and other compositions that open up the space between notes to let another instrument come forward, or a melody reveal itself. There’s usually an opportunity for the music to sound different, to be magical.


Beethoven, for example, knew how to put air between notes, to let his compositions breathe. There’s no equivocation with Beethoven. His works are just powerful pieces of music that kick my ass.

Brahms, however, is another story.

In the case of Brahms’ cello sonatas (Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor Op. 38 and Cello Sonata No. 2 in F Op. 99), what we have is more notes, not necessarily something fundamentally different from everything else I’ve heard from him so far.

And that’s too bad, because the cello has the ability to dig really deep, to pluck emotional chords that can bring tears welling up in one’s eyes. It’s a mournful instrument. Combined with a piano – which can also be extremely emotional – such a sonata could be powerful stuff, indeed.

Although Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) from Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor features Continue reading