Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Performance date: 03/07/2014
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1879
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation: va, pf
Lawrence Power -
Simon Crawford-Phillips - [piano]
10 July 1879
Johannes, I must send you word to tell you how deeply affected I am by your
sonata. I received it today and naturally I played through it right away and
afterwards, out of joy, I had a really good cry over it. After the first fine,
enchanting movement, and the second, you can imagine my delight when in the
third, I rediscovered my so ardently beloved melody with its delightful
eighth-note rhythm! I say my because I do not believe there is a single
person who perceives this melody as joyously and as wistfully as I. After all
that wonderful delight, then the last movement as well! My pen is poor, but my
heart beats for you in emotion and gratitude, and in spirit I press your
hand…..Farewell, dear Johannes. Your faithful Clara.
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.
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.
This 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 violin’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 melody.
The E flat Adagio is cast in an extended
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 and developing it within the context of the rondo’s wandering and
obsessive figuration. The 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 G 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.
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