Brahms’ First Piano Concerto: Rising to Symphonic Scale

A ferocious, stormy intensity is unleashed in the opening of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. With an ominous inevitability, the expansive opening theme growls, snarls, and lashes its teeth, rising up like some kind of awesome supernatural power. Immediately, we’re drawn into music which is bold and monumental- a kind of symphony with solo piano. For nearly four years, beginning in 1854, the young Brahms wrestled with the form of …

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“Nänie”: Brahms’ Choral Lamentation

Death is an inevitable part of life. This is the theme of Johannes Brahms’ 1881 lamentation for chorus and orchestra, Nänie, Op. 82. The work was composed in memory of the painter, Anselm Feuerbach, a close friend of Brahms. It’s a setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller which opens with the line, “Even the beautiful must perish!” “Nänie” is the German form of the Latin “nenia” which translates as, “a funeral song.” An opening statement in the …

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Brahms Sextets: The Cypress Quartet’s Swan Song

The San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet disbanded last summer after twenty years. Their final recording, featuring Johannes Brahms’ two String Sextets, was released in January. The Cypress was joined by cellist Zuill Bailey and violist Barry Shiffman for the album, recorded in front of a live audience at the Skywalker Sound Studio. Recently, the Cypress Quartet’s cellist, Jennifer Kloetzel, sat down with Richmond Public Radio’s Mike Goldberg to talk about the recording. Here is …

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Brahms’ “Tiny” Second Piano Concerto

I have written a tiny little piano concerto with a tiny little wisp of a scherzo. This is what Johannes Brahms wrote, jokingly, following the completion of his Second Piano Concerto in B-flat Major. In reality, he had composed one of the most monumental piano concertos ever imagined- a concerto set in four movements rather than the customary three, which unfolds as a virtual symphony for piano and orchestra instead of the …

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Five Great Perlman Recordings

This weekend, Itzhak Perlman will join the Richmond Symphony for our season-opening Masterworks program. The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is on the program for this already-sold-out concert. And unlike this recent BNY Mellon TV commercial, it’s safe to assume Rhea Perlman will not be attempting to fill in. (That’s the introduction of the Mendelssohn in the background of the commercial). Perlman is one of a handful of musicians who has achieved genuine celebrity status …

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Three B’s for the First Day of School

 The essential conditions of everything you do must be choice, love, passion. To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them. Without discipline, there can be no freedom. Music was not invented by the composer, but found. -Nadia Boulanger It’s that time of year again. As students of all ages head back to school, let’s listen to education-related pieces by the three B’s…Brahms, Boulanger, and Barber. …

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Oistrakh Plays Brahms

Here is a soulful performance of Johannes Brahms’ final violin sonata, the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. This classic live concert performance was taken from a March 18, 1970 recital at New York’s Alice Tully Hall featuring the legendary Soviet violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. The audio quality is less than perfect and the camera angle frequently provides the page turner’s perspective. Yet Oistrakh’s sumptuous, golden tone and noble …

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