Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Performance date: 01/07/2018
Venue: St. Brendan’s Church
Composition Year: 1891
Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ
Barry Douglas -
These are twelve of the twenty piano pieces Brahms composed in the early 1890s. They are his last compositions for solo piano. In most of them, Brahms abandons the dynamic, turbulent, extrovert style of much of his early piano work. Apart from a few pieces, which are in a more rapid tempo, a feeling of calm introspection accompanied by a dream like sense of deep sadness and regret takes over.
Written in 1891-3, they reveal how far Brahms had travelled since the robust harmonic certainties of the Ballades Op.10 composed nearly forty years earlier. Predominately using minor keys, Brahms adopts a very flexible use of the ABA form as in a minuet and trio. However it is the dark emotional richness of these works which provides their most striking feature.
In the summer of 1892, many of Brahms’ friends were ill. His sister died during the summer. Brahms intended his great friend Hans von Bulow should give the first performance of opus 116. Unfortunately, van Bulow was suffering from the cancer, which was to kill him. He was unable to perform the new work. Like many things in Brahms’ life, these late piano works also played a role in his long and tortuous relationship with Clara Schumann who, in the summer of 1892, was also ill. A long-running dispute over the publication of the music of Clara’s late husband Robert came to a head. On Clara’s birthday, 13th September, Brahms wrote to her in bitter terms implying that their relationship was over. Clara immediately replied with a soothing and friendly letter and Brahms responded by presenting her with the manuscripts of both Op.116 and 117. She was apparently pleased with them.
In Op.116, the three Capriccios are in faster tempos. No 1 is an extrovert work with swirling syncopations. The third has a grand romantic middle section. The four Intermezzos are slower, quieter, inward looking. The fourth, one of two Op.116 pieces in a major key, is full of exquisite sadness. The other major key work (No 6) has immense romantic grandeur. The final Capriccio provides an agitated conclusion to the set.
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