famous "Variazioni" of Brahms on themes of Haydn and
Schumann, finally presented with a guide which makes it easy
to follow them one after the other. And at the piano two great
Italian artists: Michele Campanella
and Stefania Cafaro.
from the original CD booklet:
op. 23 on a Theme by Schumann for Pianoforte and Four Hands
This is a piece which is imbued with deep tenderness. It was
composed in great secrecy and
privacy, as the context itself required. It is perhaps the case
that these variations were not intended for public performance
and that Brahms wanted to confine them to the intimacy of an
evening with friends in memory of the man who had provided him
with so much inspiration.
declared that the theme ("Giester-Thema") had been supplied
to him by angels sent by Schubert and Mendelssohn. At that time
he was in a sanitorium in Endenich and it is possible that the
vision which supplied this inspiration was experienced during
the crisis of the night of 17 February 1854. The work presents
a theme which is then followed by ten variations.
at the beginning of the work, which is very sweet and broad
in character, evokes a sad popular song. This is music which
comes from the depths of the soul and goes straight to the heart
of the listener. The first variation (beginning at 1.27 of the
CD) takes up the theme and enriches it with light simplicity.
In the second variation (2.40) we already perceive the composer's
intention to achieve orchestral levels which are then perpetuated
in the third variation (4.03) which is, however, characterised
by a more captivating expansiveness. In the fourth variation
(5.32) the theme draws off into the distance and a marked low
gloominess punctuates the melodic development. An intense sweetness
strengthened by echoes of distant answers characterises the
fifth variation (7.19) which is perhaps the most lyrical of
recently created atmosphere is brusquely interrupted by the
allegro non troppo of the sixth variation (8.41) where we once
again encounter the tonality of the initial theme which here
is presented with greater vigour and an agile and imposing pianism.
Its finale is triumphant. The seventh variation (9.50) is characterised
by a kind of dialogue between the two players which is both
loose and expansive. The agitated and emotional development
of the eighth variation (10.57) continues in the ninth (11.45)
where there is an additional high level of rhythmic angularity.
A dramatic element presented with marked force is introduced
into the work - fugues of scales which at the end of this section
require great virtuosity in their playing. This is the tragic
climax to the composition. The series of variations finish with
the tenth (13.48) which is a sad and resigned march.
in F Minor op. 34/b for Two Pianofortes
There are two existing versions of this piece - the "34b"
and one for a quintet (pianoforte, two violins, viola, and cello)
which is marked "op. 34". In reality, there were three
separate versions. The first ("34a", for strings),
however, was destroyed by Brahms himself who thought it was
inadequate. In the two versions which are still extant the scores,
organisation and developments are identical. There is some confusion
over which piece was composed first. The version for two pianos
was the first to see the light of day. Brahms (as has already
been pointed out) was not satisfied at the piece for strings
and so rewrote it in June 1863 when staying in Blankenese, an
old picturesque fishing village a few miles from Altona. He
was on a working holiday which proved very productive.
public performance of this piece was held in Vienna in April
1864 and was played by the composer himself and Tausig. Brahms
wrote the quintet version in the summer of 1864 when staying
in Baden Baden. The problems connected with dating stem from
the publication date of these two works - the quintet is dated
1865 and the version for pianoforte bears the year 1872. The
publisher house of both pieces was the same company - Rieter-Biedermann,
Lipsia amd Winterhur.
remained very attached to the piano version even though its
first public performance was not a happy one - indeed, it was
a veritable fiasco. However, Brahms did not allow himself to
be influenced by this unhappy debut and continued to advance
its cause with conviction. Clara Schumann performed it on at
least three occasions - with Rubinstein, with Hermann Levi,
and with Brahms himself. On this last occasion Princess Anne
of Assia was present, and her appreciation of the work was such
that Brahms later felt it his duty to dedicate this work to
her. This sonata is now one of Brahms's most popular pieces
and every time it is performed it receives the full acclaim
of the listening public.