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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Editors and Clementi

A pupil was working with me on Clementi Sonatina in D op 36 No 6, 1st movement.

I wanted her to play longer phrases and I noticed that she was more or less following the phrase marks in her edition. I then looked at my different edition and found the phrases even more chopped up into smaller units.

How then to get across my feeling that her playing was too broken up when she probably felt she was following the text?

Her edition also had a sforzando at the high point of a lyrical phrase – again a need to explain or demonstrate that sfz’s in forte and piano passages differ. I suppose it was put there to help an inexperienced player give the phrase some shape.

Finally fingering – one edition had a slightly cramped change of position to maintain use of the stronger pair of fingers 2 and 4, the other avoid this but used the weaker pair of 3 and 5. You pays your money and makes your choice.

Sophisticated as it is notation cannot convey everything we may want to do with the shaping, timing and articulation.

Next, I want this player to shape her semiquaver runs and quieten the LH for the second subject and improve to her phrase endings.

I will play her Diane Hidy’s version on youtube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzFxrfs5atY 

Brahms Op 76 no 5 Capriccio in C-sharp minor

Brahms Op 76 no 5 Capriccio in C-sharp minor

The music of Brahms grabbed me in my late teens. I found a depth of emotion, from the heart, untainted by flashy keyboard antics. Maybe there’s a different kind of showing off in the way the pieces are constructed, the way motives are used, the way he can’t deny himself a cross-rhythm or two. He was a great craftsman and his music still holds great appeal for me, even though I also love practically all the piano repertoire.

I am revisiting this Capriccio which has defeated me at least twice in the past. I believe I now have the tools and guidance to do the job.

I write now merely to share a few observations – not to present a complete analysis. With greater experience I now find I spot points of interest that I missed years ago or I find them more quickly.

A few weeks ago I was struck by the similarity of a chord progression with one in Chopin’s 3rd Ballade. It’s not original. It just goes through the cycle of fifths. Technically having recently worked on the Chopin, the Brahms felt similar.

Chopin:

Ballade extr

Brahms: see bar 3

Brahms op 76 extr1

This Capriccio opens in a stormy manner. There are 3 constituents – the top line steps upwards in crotchets as if in 3 4 fighting against the 2-beats per bar 6 8 bass stabs with a chromatic inner line worming its way around.

Brahms op 76 extr2

The mood relaxes in the middle, the feeling is much more lyrical. Is the material new? No, it’s those opening 3 crotchets turned upside so that they descend.

Brahms op 76 extr3

The last page features a long diminuendo and rall as one is spent from all the turbulence. There is a moment of silence and then a rush to a tragic, angry or violent end. I notice the final C major Capriccio of the set also ends with a winding down, silence, some slower bars and another rush to the finish – this time exultant.

I am also reminded of the G minor Rhapsody with its feeling of winding down as sextuplets become triplet crotchets then crotchets before closing with 2 brusque chords.

If you don’t know it. Here’s a performance on youtube.

Piano Duets – a personal list

Please excuse any infelicities of formatting and the lack of links for some pieces.

The ** column is my rating – which is not guaranteed to be the same the next time I look at this.

Work Piece / Movement Comment
Bizet: Jeux d’enfants La poupee *
Petit mari, petite femme *
Le bal ** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdxtpi0k2pY
Brahms: Waltzes ** Try the recording by Dinu Lipatti and Nadia Boulanger
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13jjbZc4y_Y
Brahms:Hungarian Dances ** My favourites are 1,2,5 & 19
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltZ_Mv7wpKU
Chabrier: Souvenirs de Munich fun in parts, but I wonder why I bought it
Debussy: Petite Suite All 4 movements * sight-reading at the end of school piano lessons
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances More usually heard in their orchestral guise
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JG3DUR0stY
Faure: Dolly Suite Berceuse ** a long time favourite
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3XvGwpRk0s
Mi-a-ou have played
Jardin de Dolly looks nice, not hard
Kitty Valse have played
Tendressse don’t know
Pas Espagnole looks fun
Ganz: Qui vive ** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFyreHr7h-c
Gershwin: piano duets Our love is here to stay’ is my favourite
Grieg: Norwegian Dance No 2 ** I like this a lot
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiLqJ7XnSNc
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite 1 Morning
Death of Ase
Anitra’s Dance
In the hall of the mountain king hardest of suite 1
Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite 2 Ingrid’s lament don’t really know
Arabian Dance don’t really know
Peer Gynt’s homecoming don’t really know
Solveg’s song * like a lot
Moszkowski: Spanish Dances No 1 C major fun and happy
No 2 G minor ** pick of the set for me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3vG9H5Zyso
No 3 A major also worth doing
No 4 Bb major most ordinary of the set
No 5 D major Bolero
Poulenc: Sonata for piano duet
Ravel:
Ma mere l’oye (Mother Goose)
** I especially like the Fairy Garden
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMOPVawuZJY
Satie:
Trois morceaux en forme du poire
I heard this at school. Did I like the music or the title? I’ve not heard it since
Schubert:
March Militaire
** So catchy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJYvFXlJ-BE
Schubert:
Fantasy in f minor
** The Everest of the repertoire. I’ve not played it
Warlock: Capriol Suite Bassse-Danse
Pavane easy
Tordion trickier
Bransles lightness and speed make it hard
Pieds-en-l’air ** long time favourite, not hard
Mattachins sting in the tail for primo on page 2
Weinberger:
Schwanda the Bagpiper
Polka tatty copy from a 2nd hand shop
various B&H 20th century classics vol 1
various B&H 20th century classics vol 2
Bourgeois: Serenade I’ve arranged the organ version for 2 pianos
Milhaud: Scaramouche Vif
Modere
Brasiliera ** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgGeNRlizhA
Mozart: Sonata in D for 2 pianos ** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq1rZXzjP-I
Poulenc:
L’embarquement pour Cythera
** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqtp3KVVmfU

Oboe Pieces

I am familiar with the Oboe in the symphony orchestra especially in the pre-clarinet times of the baroque and early classical orchestras. So when I was asked to play with an oboeist it was no surprise to be playing Albinoni and Cimarosa. Two unexpected pleasures were pieces by Hamilton Harty and Gabriel Grovlez (who coincidentally were almost exact contemporaries).

I knew Harty (1879-1941) as a conductor and arranger/re-orchestrator of Handel’s Water music. His Chansonette is one of a set of pieces dating from 1911.

I first came across Gabriel Grovlez (1879-1944) when one of his collection L’almanach aux images featured in the ABRSM syllabus. Since I’ve been teaching the Sarabande and the Petit Litanies have made an appearance. I haven’t taught either though I have played the latter and la berceuse d’une poupee about which I wrote here.

Here is the Sarabande with its trademark 2nd beat stresses very apparent.

 

The oboeist played very nicely and I was pleased with how the concert went. What’s not to like.

Texture

Controlling and being in charge of the texture is one of the things that makes piano playing so satisfying. We are one-person orchestras (if I may exaggerate a bit)

In my teaching, balance between the hands gets addressed when we have a piece with a tune in the Left Hand. Trinity Grade 2 had a fabulous exercise a few years ago called Manatee Parade.

manatee-parade

 

 

 

At a higher level, we talk about it for the Satie Gymnopedie No 1, where we want a rich bass, quieter middle chords and the right level for the melody above.

gymnopedie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a harder example from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

prokofiev-knights-middle-section

 

 

 

 

And finally an example when it’s all within the one hand, Scriabin Nocturne for the left hand- the sighing melody, the harmony underneath and the chromatic ascent above which I wanted to call a descant – but that might conjure up sounds of a hymn where the descant may be the loudest part which is not what we want here.

scriabin

 

 

 

 

I find balancing such textures and paying attention to voice leading the hardest thing in piano playing (I’m excluding virtuosic semiquavers and large leaps as I don’t play at that level). Yet it is immensely satisfying.

Brahms – meet Chopin

I have always thought of Brahms and Chopin as quite disparate composers. However Radio 3 drew my attention to the similar shape of the Brahms A minor intermezzo from Op 76 and the Chopin F minor Nocturne Op 55.

I do think that we should always consider the possibility that a similarity in melodic outline is accidental and I have not looked for any evidence of Brahms knowing Chopin’s music. Yet, no sooner than writing that do I remember Schumann’s comment regarding Chopin ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius’ and was Brahms closer to any musician than Schumann. Brahms was also famously learned regarding other composers such as Handel, Schutz, Dvorak and even Johann Strauss. ’nuff said, here are some examples.

chopin-nocturnebrahms-a-minor-extract

 

and now Chopin’s Scherzo No 2 and Brahms early Op 4

chopin-scherzo-1brahms-scherzo-1

 

chopin-scherzo-2brahms-scherzo-2