Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor: “Free But Lonely”

Embedded in the four note motif which opens the first movement of Brahms’ String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51, No. 2 are the pitches F-A-E. These pitches form a musical cryptogram which corresponds to the phrase, “frei aber einsam,” (“free but lonely”), the personal motto of Brahms’ friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms offered his own twist on this motto with the phrase, “Frei aber froh” (“Free but happy”). This is another motif (F-A-F) which …

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Brahms’ Cello Sonata No. 1: Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

We call it a “Cello Sonata,” but the official name Johannes Brahms gave this piece, completed in 1865, is “Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello.” To stress further the equality between the two instruments, Brahms specified that the piano “should be a partner—often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner—but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role.” The E minor Sonata is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, an Austrian music …

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Clara Schumann at 200

Composing gives me great pleasure. There is nothing which surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound. – Clara Schumann (a diary entry from June, 1853) Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). This week, we have explored Clara’s influence on the music of her husband, Robert Schumann, and close friend, Johannes …

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Schumann and Brahms: Musical Depictions of Clara

This Friday marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Clara Wieck Schumann looms large in music history. With a concert career spanning 61 years, she was one of the greatest pianists of the Romantic period. She is credited with elevating the repertoire of the piano recital, replacing bravura showpieces with substantial, mature works. She was an influential teacher at Frankfurt’s Hoch Conservatory. As a composer, she contributed piano …

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“Lerchengesang”: Brahms’ Most Ethereal Song?

Lerchengesang (“The Lark’s Song”) from 4 Songs, Op. 70 must rate as one of Johannes Brahms’ most ethereal and atmospheric songs. The text, by Karl August Candidus, pulls us into a floating, twilight dreamscape of passing memories amid “ethereal distant voices” and the “heavenly greetings of the larks.” Unfolding in gently-lapping arpeggios, the piano line drifts into the delicate upper registers with a sense of eternal longing and lament. This recording, featuring Renée Fleming and pianist …

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New Release: Renée Fleming’s “Lieder”

Renée Fleming’s newest album features songs by Brahms, Schumann, and Mahler. Released on June 14, this is the four-time Grammy winning soprano’s first full-length Lieder album for almost two decades. The recording opens with a beautiful and hypnotic performance of Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4. Here are three additional excerpts: Brahms: 4 Lieder, Op. 43 – 2. Die Mainacht “The May Night” describes a shadowy scene of lonely wandering, endless …

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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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