Sunday, February 21, 2010

Johannes Brahms: Complete Works With Opus Numbers on Spotify Part 1

Johannes Brahms's letter to Clara Schumann: "Art is a republic. You should take that as a motto. You are far too aristocratic. . . . Do not place one artist in a higher rank and expect the others to regard him as their superior, as dictator. His gifts will make him a beloved and respected citizen of this republic, but will not make him consul or emperor."

Clara Schumann's reply: "It is true that I am often greatly struck by the richness of your genius, that you always seem to me one on whom heaven has poured out its best gifts, that I love and honor you for the sake of many glorious works. All this has fastened its roots deep down in my heart, so, dearest Johannes, do not trouble to kill it all by your cold philosophizing."

Robert Schumann's last words to Clara: "My... I know..." He was trying to say: "My Clara, I know you." He couldn't speak Clara's name since a suicide attempt two years before his death in an asylum, Clara and Brahms was with him during his final days.

I read some 200 pages of Jan Swafford's fascinating biography of Brahms while travelling during the holidays. Before this I never looked closely into the heartbreaking story of Brahms' relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann. It's such a sad thing to see beauty decay. It's sadder still, to see Brahms developed into a mature artist at the same time when Schumann's inspiration and health torn away. Brahms denied both Robert's prediction and Clara's love, meanwhile all his life he promoted Schumann's works and dedicated his chief muse Clara many masterpieces. What a total, um, what's the word, well, dude.

To coordinate with the reading, I'm in the process of making a chronicle playlist of Brahms' works. Here's part 1: Johannes Brahms: Op. 1-30

I included both the original 1854 version of the Piano Trio No.1, and the 1891 revised version. For the piano music, beside the modern recordings I also added in some historical recordings from Backhaus and Kempff, both were born while Brahms was alive and noted for their Brahms interpretation.

The Op. 9 Schumann Variations might be Brahms' most personal composition. In the tenth variation he used a Clara theme, which Schumann himself also used in his Impromptu. Brahms sent it to Schumann in the clinic. Schumann loved the music but couldn't remember that theme.

In the Swan Songs playlist there's Schumann's last composition, a set of variations for piano put down days before his collapse. Brahms wrote a subtle set of new variations on Schumann's theme for piano four-hand.

One last word for the String Sextet No.1 Op. 18, if I was going to make a "I've known Four Seasons, For Elise and Eine kleine Nachtmusik etc. Now what?" playlist, I'd definetely put the 2nd movement, the Andante in it.

Happy listening, and please stay tuned for part 2.