Day 333: Piano Sonatas 2 & 3

BrahmsCD27More piano sonatas, this time performed by a different pianist from the previous CD.

Alan Weiss, is the pianist’s name.

Here are the sonatas he plays on today’s CD:

Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor Op. 2

Right out of the chute, Piano Sonata No. 2 is a barn burner. It’s bold, confident, showy.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 2 of Johannes Brahms was written in Hamburg, Germany in 1853, and published the year after. Despite being his second published work, it was actually composed before his first piano sonata, but was published later because Brahms recognized the importance of an inaugural publication and felt that the C major sonata was of higher quality. It was sent along with his first sonata to Breitkopf und Härtel with a letter of recommendation from Robert Schumann. Schumann had already praised Brahms enthusiastically, and the sonata shows signs of an effort to impress, with its technical demands and highly dramatic nature. It was dedicated to Clara Schumann.

If this is true, Brahms was 20 years old.

Incidentally, it’s worth nothing who Clara Schumann was. According to Continue reading

Day 332: Piano Sonata No. 1, Scherzo in E Flat Minor, 16 Waltzes

BrahmsCD26Eighteen piano compositions.

Two different pianists.

One CD.

You’d think that would the formula for excitement.

And you’d just about be right.


Four-hand piano is done (at least for the time being). These piano compositions are for two-hand piano.

Performers are:

Kamerhan Turan (tracks 1-5)
Karin Lechner (tracks 6-21)

Compositions are:

Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Op. 1 (Turan)

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1, of Johannes Brahms was written in Hamburg in 1853, and published later that year. Despite being his first published work, he had actually composed his second piano sonata first, but chose this work to be his first published opus because he felt that it was of higher quality. The piece was sent along with his second sonata to Breitkopf & Härtel with a letter of recommendation from Robert Schumann. Schumann had already praised Brahms enthusiastically, and the sonata shows signs of an effort to impress in its technical demands and dramatic character. It was dedicated to Joseph Joachim.

If that is correct, then Brahms was 20 years old when he composed this music.

And beautiful music it is, too. Very listenable. Exciting. Seems the younger Brahms was Continue reading

Day 331: Hungarian Dances (Piano Four Hands)

BrahmsCD25Today’s CD of Hungarian Dances written for four-hand piano was recorded in 1956 and features the legendary Alfred Brendel as one pair of hands and Walter Klien as the other pair.

Musically, it doesn’t get much better than this. The performances are sublime.

Sonically, there’s a lot of tape hiss. Not to the point of distraction. But one can definitely tell this recording is nearly 60 years old.

There are 21 tracks on this, the 25th of 58 CDs in the Brahms Complete Edition from Brilliant Classics.

I’m going to award this a Favorite Brhams CD designation for two reasons:

1. Alfred Brendel
2. It makes Brahms sound livelier and more interesting than he has been to this point

This music is perfect for passive listening while writing, reading, or thinking. And it sounds good enough for active listening as well. I’m really enjoying these little snippets of music.

From its
entry on Wikipedia:

The Hungarian Dances (German: Ungarische Tänze) by Johannes Brahms (WoO 1), are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes, completed in 1869.

They vary from about a minute to four minutes in length. They are among Brahms’s most popular works, and were certainly the most profitable for him. Each dance has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles. Brahms originally wrote the version for piano four-hands and later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano.

Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. The most famous Hungarian Dance is No. 5 in F♯ minor, but even this dance was based on the csárdás by Béla Kéler titled “Bártfai emlék” which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.

If these were composed in 1869 (the IMSLP web site suggests a much later date), then Brahms was 36.

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 329: Sonata for Two Pianos

BrahmsCD23Beautiful music.

I guess, when you get right down to is, I’m partial to piano compositions, especially solo piano. But even sonatas written for two pianos (like what I’m listening to today) are compelling to me.

Here’s what’s on tap today:

Sonata for Two Pianos in F minor Op. 34bis

I’m not sure what “bis” means. I haven’t run across that before, to my knowledge.

Here’s who’s playing what’s on tap today:

Begonia Uriate piano
Karl-Hermann Mrongovius piano

According to the IMSLP web site, this was composed in 1864. If that’s true, Brahms was 31.

I think my favorites of the four movements are the last two – Movement III (“Scherzo: Allegro”) and Movement IV (“Finale: Poco sostenuto – Allegro non troppo – Presto non troppo”). They’re a bit bouncier, have a little more life to them.

Another Favorite Brahms composition!

Day 328: Viola Sonatas, Piano Trio in A

BrahmsCD22There’s something about the first composition (Sonata for Viola & Piano in F minor Op. 120 No. 1) that drew me in from the opening notes.

It still sounds like two instruments – piano and viola – are playing different pieces of music.

But, at least the music they’re playing is compelling.

What I’m listening to today:

Sonata for Viola & Piano in F minor Op. 120 No. 1

All four movements of this sonata are well done. I even detected a bit of melody amidst all the notes.

I thought Movement III (“Allegretto grazioso”) was good. But Movement IV (“Vivace”) kicked my keister.

Op. 120 No. 1 is terrific.

Here’s an article about it publishing on the LA Philharmonic web site. It indicates that this sonata was composed in 1891. If that’s true, Brahms was 58.

Sonata for Viola & Piano in E flat Op. 120 No. 2

This sonata is also quite good. The piano is well recorded. As is the viola. Very crisp. But organic. Real sounding.

My favorite of the three movements is Continue reading

Day 327: String Sextets

BrahmsCD21Johannes sure does love his pizzicato, the word for the plucking of stringed instruments (which, to me, always sounds like a character in a cartoon sneaking up on another character – you know, that tip-toe sound).

Because he uses it a lot.

So much so that its effect on me has diminished.

I used to love hearing it in a Classical composition, smiling whenever my ears would pick it out of a movement.

Now, I just think, “Must be Brahms.” Yawn.

Here’s what I’m listening to today:

String Sextet no. 1 in B flat Op. 18

Movement I (“Allegro ma non troppo”) runs the gamut from pastoral to pretentious, from melodic to mash-up. The instruments ebb and flow, sometimes building to a sound that resembles a “mash-up” video on YouTube in which someone has combined two songs into one. The ending of Movement I is all stringed instruments being plucked.

Why? I don’t know. Pizzicato is supposed to be like a caviar garnish – not a main course.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18, was composed in 1860 by Johannes Brahms. It was published in 1862 by the firm of Fritz Simrock.

The sextet is scored for two violins, two violas, and two cellos.

There are earlier examples by Luigi Boccherini (two sets of six each). However, between the Boccherini and the Brahms, very few for stringed instruments without piano seem to have been written or published, whereas within the decades following Brahms’ two examples, a number of composers, including Antonín Dvořák, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Joachim Raff, Max Reger, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, all wrote string sextets.

This sextet was used as soundtrack by French director Louis Malle in the movie “The Lovers” (“Les Amants”, 1958).

The sextet’s second movement is featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sarek”. The second movement is featured in “The Day of the Dead”, an episode of Inspector Morse.

Movement II (“Andante, ma moderato”) is actually very, very interesting. In fact, Continue reading

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 325: Piano Quartet No. 3, Piano Quintet

BrahmsCD19What a minute.

To whom am I listening?

It can’t be Brahms.

Can it?

This is bold music, with an edge to it that I haven’t yet heard from Mrs. Brahms’ boy Johannes.

I was drawn in from the first chord of the piano, which rang out and then decayed. A few instruments played softly. Then another crashing piano chord. Then other instruments.

Movement II (“Scherzo: Allegro”) proved Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) wasn’t a fluke. The music continues to be bold, unexpected, surprising, compelling.

This can’t be Brahms!

This piano concerto is dramatically different from other Brahms compositions that I’ve heard to date.

I like this.

A lot.

So much so that I award this Favorite Brahms Composition.

In the grand scheme, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. I realize that. Who cares what I think about Brahms, right?

I care. I want to remember that this particular CD was outstanding and that 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.