What inspired composer and pianist Johannes Brahms to write great music? And was he preserving the past, or making way for the future? As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, pianist Orli Shahamhas been exploring these questions, showcasing music by Brahms and composers who came before and after.
On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday March 1st, 2015, 5-6 pm... Continuing our survey of the year 1915, we find one of the few people of the time—composers, critics, or audience members—who liked both Brahms and Wagner, and that's Karl Goldmark. A Hungarian composer trying to make his way in Vienna, he took on other jobs in and related to music. One of those jobs was music criticism.
Christoph von Dohnányi returns to the podium to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program of German masterpieces performed this past April at Verizon Hall, culminating in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, one of the most perfectly crafted works ever written!
Also on the program, Brahms’s Haydn Variations; which almost certainly gave Brahms the confidence to complete his long-awaited First Symphony. In it, Brahms transforms a simple, lilting melody into a tour-de-force for orchestra.
Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday March 1st at 5 pm... It would be disconcerting enough to be at a party with Johannes Brahms. The famous composer was famously grumpy; some of classical music’s great one-liners come from him. When told after the premiere of his first symphony that it sounded like Beethoven, he snapped, “Any ass can see that.” He told a young composer, showing him a new work inspired, he said, by Beethoven, “It’s a good thing Beethoven was not inspired by you.” And then there’s Brahms leaving a gathering: “If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.”
But imagine not only being at a party with Brahms, but being the host, being a composer yourself, and sitting next to him, playing a new Brahms work at the piano. If you can picture that, then you can picture being Ignaz Brüll.
Brüll lived in Vienna, the musical capital of Europe, almost his entire life. Although his father was a successful businessman, both he and Brüll’s mother were musicians, and encouraged their son’s musical gifts. He became a wonderful pianist, concertized, composed, married, and threw parties at his house, which became a meeting-place for his good friend Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Carl Goldmark, the critic Eduard Hanslick, and many other powerful musicians and music-lovers. Whenever Brahms (a good but not great pianist) wanted to air out—piano four-hands—a new piece, he called on Ignaz Brüll to sit next to him.
His biggest success was an opera, The Golden Cross, and he wrote a number of well-received works (Anton Rubinstein was a fan), including much piano music, three Serenades, and a Violin Concerto written for Johann Lauterbach (who has a “Lauterbach” Stradivarius named after him). The second Serenade was recorded using the score and parts in the Fleisher Collection. Fleisher also provided materials for the Violin Concerto project, but the story’s a bit more complicated.
Michael Laus, the conductor on this recording, found the full score in the Fleisher Collection. No parts existed. He also had access to the composer’s manuscript, and the violin/piano version (a piano-with-solo edition of a concerto is often published so that the soloist may study or even perform the work without an orchestra).
The challenge for Laus, though, was that the three sources sometimes disagreed. So he compared them, corrected obvious mistakes, and used the full and piano scores to illuminate confusing smudges in the manuscript. To make it even more interesting, Brüll had rewritten some of the solo for the piano version publication, so that was different. When all this was wrangled, Laus made a set of parts, and went to the recording studio.
Why has the music languished up to now? Partly it’s because that, even though Brahms himself called Brüll “an exceptional melodist,” and though The Golden Cross enjoyed multiple performances into the 1920s, his other works never struck fire. And partly it’s because he suffered the fate of other Jewish composers under the Nazis. He died in 1907 but his music was banned in the 1930s.
His fortunes, however, are changing now. These works and others are being recorded, thanks to Fleisher and the resourcefulness of dedicated musicians. Let’s imagine being at a party in Brüll’s house, with Brahms and all his other friends, enjoying each others’ company and music.
Animals and nature are as big a part of Hélène Grimaud’s world as playing concertos with the great orchestras of the world. For years, the concert pianist's earnings went into the creation of the Wolf Conservation Center for endangered species in upstate New York. Then, after seven years of living in Switzerland, she's living back in North Salem, New York where the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns befriended her German Shepherd Chico.
It was an unforgettable performance! Re-live it on Sunday, September 22, 2 to 4 pm as then Music Director-Designate Yannick Nezet-Seguin took the podium in March, 2011 to conduct The Philadelphia Orchestra, Westminster Symphonic Choir, and soloists Dorothea Roeschmann and Matthias Goerne in a critically acclaimed performance of Johannes Brahms's humanistic and glorious Ein Deutsches Requiem, A German Requiem - a symphonic as well as a choral masterpiece.
The program also features one of the pillars of the classical repertory: Mozart's Symphony No. 40. Gregg Whiteside is host and producer.
We hope you're enjoying our Philadelphia Orchestra broadcasts! Please keep WRTI going strong by becoming a member, renewing your membership, or making an additional gift in support of fabulous programming. Help us reach our $330,000 Member Drive goal.
The Tragic Overture of Johannes Brahms, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conducting, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
"One weeps, the other laughs." So Brahms remarked about his two, contrasting pair of concert overtures—the jovial Academic Festival Overture and the Tragic Overture. The complementary overtures are like the masks of the Greek dramas: Comedy facing one way, Tragedy the other.
Although Brahms read Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Goethe, in the musical tragedy he is not telling a specific story, but instead is invoking a mood, an emotional impression. Two hammer chords announce and reappear throughout the overture. It is a dark and stormy overture.