Day 326: String Quintets

BrahmsCD20Today’s CD makes me snooze.

In other words, it’s back to bland for Brahms.

This music is nothing like the boldness of yesterday’s. It sounds pretty much like everything else I’ve heard from Brahms.

Only more so.

For example, Movement II (“Grave ed appassionato – Allegretto vivace – Tempo I – Presto – Tempo I”) from String Quartet No. 1 in F Op. 88 sounds like five instruments are warming up, each playing something slightly different. In that regard, it’s almost like progressive rock or Jazz. It’s busy.

But the ending to Movement II is remarkable. Absolutely compelling. Mesmerizing. Magical.

Today’s musicians are:

Brandis Quartett
Thomas Brandis, Peter Brem violins
Wilfried Strehle viola
Wolfgang Boettcher cello
Brett Dean viola

And this is what they’re playing:

String Quartet No. 1 in F Op. 88

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Johannes Brahms’ String Quintet No. 1 in F major, op. 88, was composed in 1882 in the spa town of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria, and published by the firm of Fritz Simrock. It was first performed at a chamber music evening in Frankfurt-on-Main on 29 December 1882.

Brahms described the quintet to his friend Clara Schumann as “one of [his] finest works” and told Simrock, “You have never before had such a beautiful work from me.”

I’m sure he did describe this work in glowing terms to Clara. He was trying to woo her. He’d have told her God Almighty visited him one bright morning and handed him the manuscript if he thought it would have gotten him into her pants.

I will tell you straight out that this Continue reading

Day 324: Piano Quartet No. 2

BrahmsCD18I do so love the sound of Classical piano and stringed instruments playing together.

Today’s CD – Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Op. 26 – does an adequate job of filling my ears with what I love most about Classical music.


This composition is oddly incongruous with itself. The piano sounds like it was recorded in another era while the stringed instruments sound modern.

Or, to put it another way, this recording (or maybe it’s the composition itself) sounds like the piano is playing either in a different room, or a different time (even a different piece of music!) and the stringed instruments are laid over the piano track.

I know that’s not the case. Brilliant Classics is my favorite music label. Everything they do is first-rate, top-notch, and with the highest regard for quality in mind. So the problem is not the recording. The problem is the composition itself.

The worst offender of this is Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) which starts out with piano and strings relatively together. But then, very shortly, the piano starts to meander off by itself and the strings play their parts almost incongruously. Almost like Jazz music. The different instruments peal off on their own for awhile, then return to play the main melody.

But it sounds odd in this composition because the piano is not as prominent as the strings. The volume level. They don’t mesh well. The piano is quiet and relegated to the background. The strings are right up front.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 26, by Johannes Brahms is scored for piano, violin, viola and cello. It was completed in 1861 and received its premiere in November 1863 by the Hellmesberger Quartet with the composer playing the piano part. It has been especially noted for drawing influence from composer Franz Schubert. Lasting approximately 50 minutes, this quartet is the longest of Brahms’s chamber works to perform.

Not even the pizzicato can save this piece for me.

Speaking of pizzicato, Brahms seems to use it a lot. Yet, it doesn’t have the same effect on me that it does in the music of other composers.

Anyway, Brahms was 28 when he composed this piece for piano and strings.

Today’s music was performed by:

Derek Han piano
Isabell Faust violin (Stradivari, 1704)
Bruno Giuranna viola
Alain Meunier cello

I really wish I could hear some Brahms that blew me away the way Beethoven’s music did. So far, though, not so much.

That’s not to say Brahms was a hack. It just says that his music doesn’t resonate with me the way Beethoven’s did.

Day 315: Violin Concerto, Concerto for Violin, Cello & Orchestra

BrahmsCD9I’ll say one thing for Brahms: he loves to fill his compositions with lots of notes.

But not in a Mozartian way so that the compositions are still melodic and memorable.

They’re just busy.

Perhaps the word I’m looking for is jumbled.

In my opinion, Beethoven – my favorite Classical composer – used notes more judiciously, with lots of space for shading between the light and dark, the somber and joyful. More importantly, Beethoven had a tremendous knack for writing melodies that touched me deeply.

Brahms, on the other hand, seems to have a profound grasp of the instruments – sort of like how a potter works with clay – yet he lacks an awareness of how the instruments could be used to create an aural landscape so compelling one could not possibly turn away.

Art for art’s sake.

In other words, competence, perhaps even mastery, yet Continue reading

Day 307: Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 1

BrahmsCD1Today begins a new chapter in my three-year journey, and another exploration of the complete works of a Classical composer.

This time, I will listen to everything Johannes Brahams composed.

Once again, I turn to the wonderful label Brilliant Classics and their Johannes Brahams Complete Edition, which you can buy from Amazon.

I also turn to Wikipedia to tell me more about Johannes Brahms:

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist.

Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. In his lifetime, Brahms’s popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the “Three Bs”.

Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished.

Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined art for which Johann Sebastian Bach is famous, and of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and other composers.

The musicians on Brahms CD 1 are:

Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden, conductor

The composition is Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68 and it consists of four movements:

I. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Meno allegro
II. Andante sostenuto
III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
IV. Adagio – Piu andante – Allegro non troppo ma con brio – Piu allegro

I had no idea what to expect with Brahms.

I’m sure I heard something he’s composed at some point in my life, quite possibly on the local Classic music radio station. But Continue reading

Day 30: Overheard Conversations

HaydnCD30This morning at Panera, as I refilled my mug of Light Roast coffee, I overhead a group of old guys chatting in a little nook area near the front of the restaurant. One man, who looked to be in his mid to late 60s, had his laptop open and he was talking to guys who looked to be 10+ years older than that.

“Are you referring to Internet Explorer?” the man with the laptop asked. “Because I have Google Chrome and Firefox, too.”

I glanced over and looked at the gaggle of retirees and thought, “Really? Twenty years ago, guys of this age would be jawing about being retired – not about web browsers.”

Life is funny, innit?

Symphony No. 96 in D , “The Miracle Symphony,” was composed in 1791 and is part of the London Symphonies. It is called “The Miracle Symphony” because, according to its entry on Wikipedia,

It is so called due to the story that, during its premiere, a chandelier fell from the ceiling of the concert hall in which it was performed. The audience managed to dodge the chandelier successfully as they had all crowded to the front for the post-performance applause, and the symphony got its nickname. More careful and recent research suggests that this event did indeed take place but during the premiere of his Symphony No. 102.

Haydn was 59, when this symphony was composed and first performed.

Symphony No. 97 in C was composed and first performed in Continue reading

Day 26: The Queen and Me

HaydnCD26Symphony No. 85 in B Flat “La Reine” (The Queen) is familiar to me, especially Movement III (“Menuetto & Trio: Allegretto”). I hear it now and then on the local Classical radio station.

This is a very, very good symphony.

It sounds so much like a symphony from that era that it very well could be the quintessential symphony, Plato’s Symphony — the idealized prototype for all symphonies.

The fourth of the six-part Paris Symphonies, No. 85 was composed in 1785 or 1786. Like the preceding three — and subsequent two — No. 85 sounds rich and full, with a depth and complexity that could only have come from a mature Haydn, one in command of his talents, confident and assured in his gift for composition. He was 53 or 54.

This is another Haydn symphony that I dub “favorite.”

521px-Marie-Antoinette;_koningin_der_FransenWhy is it called The Queen? According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The nickname “La Reine” originated because the work was a favorite of Marie Antoinette, at the time Queen of France. It is the only one of the Paris symphonies whose nickname is of 18th-century origin.

Symphony No. 86 in D is no slouch, though. From the get-go, Movement I (“Adagio – Allegro spiritoso”) stirs my soul and puts a smile on my face. When I think of what a symphony (at least the Continue reading