Cello Sonata No.1 in D major Op.78

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
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Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Performance date: 03/07/2017

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1879 / 1897

Duration: 00:27:40

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Alasdair Beatson - [piano]

The G major Sonata was
dedicated to Clara Schumann’s son Felix, who was also Brahms’ godson.
Felix had died of TB after a long illness earlier in 1879, thus the
funeral march in the Adagio. Although this wonderful sonata, one of
the greatest masterpieces of the genre, has a sunny and sensuous
reputation, the music casts many a shadow as Clara’s emotional
reaction to the score suggests.

It’s not worth playing
through more than once, and you would have to have a nice, soft rainy
evening to give the proper mood,
wrote Brahms to his friend
Theodor Billroth, when he sent him the score. Not worth playing
through more than once
is hardly posterity’s view, as Brahms of
course knew. His friend quickly figured out the riddle of the nice,
soft rainy evening
for the motif that dominates the whole work is
taken from Brahms’ song Regenlied. This is the melody that so
excited Clara, Pour down raindrops; reawaken in me the dreams I
dreamed in childhood,
is how the song went but the melody itself,
with its mood of nostalgia and regret, harked back to Brahms’ and
Clara’s shared past.

Almost twenty years later
the multi-talented pianist/violinist/composer/teacher/editor Paul
Klengel, undoubtedly inspired by his brother – virtuosic cellist
Julius Klengel – arranged this glorious sonata for cello and piano.
The arrangement was published by Simrock in 1897 – the last year of
Brahms’ life – transposed sonata down to D major with numerous
changes to the parts. Klengel published over a dozen more of Brahms’
arrangements for Simrock including two of Brahms’ solo piano
Intermezzos for cello and piano and another arrangement of the Op. 78
sonata for solo piano.

The radiant sonata was
written immediately after the glorious violin concerto, indeed Brahms
brought the score to his great friend and musical advisor, the
violinist and composer Joseph Joachim, before the proofs of the
concerto were completed. Some commentators even feel that the
sonata’s slow movement was Brahms’ original idea for the concerto’s
slow movement. The dotted rhythm that sets the opening theme in
motion pervades the whole work as does the little phrase itself,
whose seeming artlessness is of the kind that conceals art. This
unifying motif dominates the first movement and reappears in both the
other movements and is intimately related to the Regenlied theme.
This richly expressive opening leads to an inspired transition
passage, where the piano gently reflects on the theme accompanied by
the cello’s hushed lower-register double-stopping. Out of this
magical atmosphere emerges one of Brahms’ most ecstatic lyrical
creations, a glowing second subject that could define beauty. This
mood of melodious well-being is soon lost in the development as the
music slips into the minor key and passion takes the place of
lyricism. However, like Mozart, Brahms could cast shadows without
hiding the sun and the music soon returns to the rhapsodic flow of

The Adagio – in the
cello transposed version in B flat major – is cast in an extended ABA
form, haunted throughout its outer sections by the grim dotted rhythm
of a funeral march, while the central section looks at beauty with
the saddened eye of experience. The famous and much-loved finale is a
surprisingly gentle movement in its evocation of childhood innocence
seen across the years-wide gulf of experience. The movement evolves
as a rondo, the main episode taking up the Adagio’s second theme in
the same key and developing it within the context of the rondo’s
wandering and obsessive figuration. The finale is mostly in D minor
and coda of the whole work is an even richer synthesis of ideas,
scraps of themes from the finale and the adagio are interwoven as the
harmony melts back into the long-abandoned D major, the piano
textures thin out and the opening theme of the whole work is
recalled, its place now clear, and the circle closes on a finally
tranquil major-key diminuendo. No wonder Clara was moved to tears.

Francis Humphrys