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Brahms Johannes (1833-1897)

Biography of Brahms Johannes:

If it is true that the reputation of almost every composer fluctuates in the decades following their death, it is also true that in a few instances their renown is such that they were not only widely regarded as great composers during their lifetime, but also they have been thus considered ever since. It is into this latter category that Johannes Brahms belongs, yet an important part of his output remains little known, even amongst enthusiasts for his art. This is his choral music, which comprises a significant proportion of his work, and which is mainly known through three works - Ein deutsches Requiem, the Alto Rhapsody and the first set of Liebeslieder Walzer. In many ways, this is a surprising state of affairs, for Brahms was enamoured of the voice throughout his life, and he wrote many vocal works - from solo songs to large-scale choral-orchestral pieces. Within this output, there is an imposing body of music by him for unaccompanied voices, and this album contains a representative selection drawn from the relatively familiar to the very rarely-heard. The first set of Liebeslieder Walzer (Songs of Love Waltzes) dates from 1869, when the composer was 36. They are written for piano duet and a mixed quartet of vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). This was not an entirely original combination, for similar examples are found in Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. The Spanish Love Songs of Brahms’s idol Schumann, for vocal quartet and piano, may have suggested the form of this work to Brahms. On the other hand, the utilisation of the waltz-form, and that of its precursor, the Ländler, by a vocal quartet with piano duet accompaniment was new. Brahms’s opus 39 Waltzes for piano duet - he also made a version for solo piano - and his admiration for Johann Strauss II - demonstrate his genuine affection for the dance, but there is one other unusual aspect of the Liebeslieder; it was first published as being for piano duet "with voices ad libitum". The vocal parts are surely integral to the work, making performances by the piano duettists alone (which can be done, however) seem devoid of essential character and colour. Eighteen waltzes make up Brahms’s opus 52. They are written to texts by Brahms’s contemporary, the German philosophical writer George Friedrich Daumer, from his noted anthology Polydora, translations or imitations of mainly Russian and Polish (and occasionally Hungarian) folk-songs. The work was first heard in public, played from manuscript, in Carlsruhe on October 6th, 1969, when the pianists were Clara Schumann and Hermann Levi, and the singers Fräulein Hausmann, Frau Hauser, Herr Kürner and Herr Brouillet. In the same concert, Clara Schumann had played Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Levi Conducting. The second performance took place in Vienna the following January, with Clara Schumann and Brahms himself as the pianists. In the following brief notes, the English titles are taken from the first publication, as translated by Natalia Macfarren - the wife of the English composer Sir Alexander Macfarren. In 1874, Brahms’s publishers, N. Simrock of Berlin, published his Seven Songs opus 62 for unaccompanied mixed voices. The texts are from various sources: the collection Das Knaben Wunderhorn (which later so inspired Gustav Mahler), the Jungbrunnen of Paul Heyse, and from an old German poem. From this collection, we hear the first and third: the set opens with Rosemarin (Rosemary) from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, a gentle setting in triple time in G minor, and we also hear the third, Waldesnacht (The Gloom of the Woods) which was, in fact, the first to be performed. This was in a remarkable concert on November 8th 1874 of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, conducted by Brahms, who in the first half of the concert had been the soloist in Beethoven’s "Emperor" Concerto. This latter piece is a very beautiful, very slow, setting in D major of Heyse’s text. Five years earlier, Brahms had completed a similar set, Drei Gesänge, for six-part unaccompanied mixed voices. The third of these, Darthulas Grabesgesang, has a text taken from a translation of Ossian, which Brahms found in Johann Herder’s Stimmen der Völker. This gravely noble piece begins with both alto parts in unison, as if a reminiscence of an ancient funeral ode before the part-writing flowers in a style which looks forward on occasion to Max Reger. In 1889, towards the end of his composing life, Brahms wrote several choral pieces, including a set of Fünf Gesänge for unaccompanied mixed voices. The fourth and fifth of these make a beautifully contrasted pair. Verlorene Jugend (Lost Youth) is particularly poignant, yet not despairingly sad: it is masterfully composed, using the voices with consummate ease, Im Herbst (In Autumn) has a richly flowing sense of stretch in 6/4, and employs a subtle use of tonality. From the other end of Brahms’s composing life, the seven Marienlieder for unaccompanied mixed voices was first published in 1862; the fifth of these Ruf zur Maria (the second of Book II) is a delightfully fresh and flexible setting - the words are not sacred, but come from old German texts founded upon some of the medieval legends concerning the history of the Virgin. This slow and supremely effective setting is in B flat major. Even earlier is the Ave Maria opus 12. This was first performed in 1859 (some two years before it was first published), conducted by Brahms, in circumstances which, according to several of those present, left something to be desired with regard to his Conducting technique. It is scored for four-part female choir with organ or orchestra (Brahms also did versions for string orchestra or piano accompaniment). Karl Geiringer found it to be "an experimental study" - rather more Italian than North German perhaps - yet in its flowing thirds it is undoubtedly echt-Brahms. This may have been inspired by hearing Schubert’s famous setting. From the same period comes the Drei geistliche Chöre published as opus 37. The third of these, a setting of Regina coeli, is for soprano and alto soloists and four-part women’s Chorus, and is written throughout in canon - a magnificent example of Brahms wearing his learning with captivating facility. A further example of Brahms’s skill in canonic writing is found in his opus 30 - Geistliches Lied to words by Paul Flemming (1609-1640), for four-part mixed choir and organ (or piano) accompaniment. This is written in double canon at the ninth below, but listeners unconcerned with the techniques of musical composition will have not difficulty in following this superb piece. In February 1890, Brahms visited Cologne for the last time, where he heard the first - and private - performance of his Drei Motteten opus 110, for four- and eight-part unaccompanied mixed chorus. They were given by the Students of the Conservatoire, and the texts, although similar in character, come from various sources: the first is from the Bible, the second is an anonymous old German text, and the third is by Paul Eber. They constitute Brahms’s last work for unaccompanied mixed voices, and inhabit a rare, other-worldy atmosphere of resignation and a calm acceptance of fate. Robert Matthew-Walker (c) 1997

CD's with Brahms Johannes
The Glory of St. George's

ArtNr. GMCD 7105

Master Works I - Music by Johannes Brahms

ArtNr. GMCD 7134

Remembrance & Resurrection

ArtNr. GMCD 7146

How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings

ArtNr. GMCD 7147

Christmas Music from St. Paul's

ArtNr. GMCD 7152

Silent Night

ArtNr. GMCD 7170

The Low Bass - Great Art Songs from the Bass Repertoire

ArtNr. GMCD 7244

Ein deutsches Requiem by Brahms

ArtNr. GMCD 7302


ArtNr. GHCD 2260/61/62

ZARA DOLUKHANOVA - Lieder, Songs, Arias and Duets

ArtNr. GHCD 2281/82/83/84

TOSCANINI - Brahms - Requiem - 1943

ArtNr. GHCD 2290

Paul Kletzki - 1946

ArtNr. GHCD 2319

Toscanini - Christmas Day & Farewell Concerts

ArtNr. GHCD 2369/70

Fritz Busch - Brahms, Mozart, Reger (1919, 1931, 1948-51)

ArtNr. GHCD 2371

Toscanini conducts various Orchestras 1929-1952

ArtNr. GHCD 2384/85

Full of Grace - Songs to the Virgin Mary

ArtNr. GMCD 7380

Daniel Barenboim - Rare first recordings 1955

ArtNr. GHCD 2390

Leonid Kogan plays Brahms & Khachaturian

ArtNr. GHCD 2394

Leopold Stokowski - Brahms, Wagner 1960

ArtNr. GHCD 2402

George Szell - Blacher, Mozart, Brahms, Stravinsky 1958

ArtNr. GHCD 2404

Adolf Busch - The Berlins Recording 1921-1929

ArtNr. GHCD 2406/07

Pierre Dervaux - Rec. 1957-1961

ArtNr. GHCD 2416/17

Adolf Busch - Brahms - 1949 & 1951

ArtNr. GHCD 2418

Music for the University Zurich

ArtNr. GMCD 7415

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