More Brahms (Op. 116 and Op. 1)

I have recently been learning a few pieces from Op. 116 – numbers 4-7. Very satisfying.

No 4 – beautiful

No 5 – very strange. Interesting how there seem to be 2 choices of tempo – a faster and a slower choice. i prefer the latter.

No 6 – In googling this one I came across the concept of rhythmic dissonance. I think this is what happens when the harmonic and melodic stresses disagree or interfere with one and another. Something I had sensed but could not put into words. Brahms clearly loved ambiguity and he will quite happily harmonise a few melodic notes in two different ways such that the stresses are not on the same beat.

No 7 – I’ve previously looked at page 1 and thought how exciting, turned to page 2 and totally failed to make sense of it. I’ve heard it on disc played by professionals and live by an amateur and it still didn’t make sense. However now I’ve learned the notes I find it compelling and who could not enjoy the powerful ending !

Though numbers 5 and 7 are not performance ready my teacher said why didn’t I learn something really big – such as the f minor sonata.

I have known the opening and the slow movement since I first became a big Brahms fan in my teenage years. It is the most recorded of the three, but last time I heard it I was not as ‘wowed’ as I thought I would be. But I was totally blown away by the first which I heard on Radio 3 from the Wigmore Hall (Boris Giltburg).

It could well be beyond me, but I’ve made a start. I don’t have particularly large hands so it may not be best suited to me. It is a fascinating work – all textbooks point out to nod to the Hammerklavier in the opening. The 1st time bar of the 1st movement is so exciting, as is the last page of that movement – Brahms was kind enough to provide an ossia which I shall use. The last movement has leaps which seem ridiculous but even in his op 1 Brahms is playing rhythmic tricks on us and shifting the stresses away from the first beat of a straightforward 9 8 in a hemiola-like fashion.


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