Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

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Tarantella
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Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sat Nov 16, 2013 7:20 am

I'm listening to this tumultuous work played by Stephen Kovacevich. Rising from my attempted slumbers to write this because I'm always overwhelmed by this great piano composition. You know, I'm not so struck on the Brahms Ballades or his Piano Sonatas, preferring instead the smaller pieces like Rhapsodies, Fantasies, Intermezzi etc. Also, the chamber works with piano and the two mighty concerti. A friend of mine was a broadcaster on our Australian national fine music network and he used to say on air about the Brahms 2, "the piano is showing all its teeth"!!

The Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel are something else again. Kovacevich's performance is intense, but also lyrical, strong and authoritative. He's a favourite pianist of mine, not least because of his great intelligence (and stunning looks!!). Brahms is at his best here in this work too - its sheer, shivering greatness and knotty complexity is the right combination for me. As Monroe said to Tom Ewell in "Seven Year Itch"...."it shakes me, and quakes me"!!

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 7:59 am

Tovey called this one of the three or four greatest sets of variations every written, and I'm only not using quotation marks because I don't have the text in front of me. We can probably agree on what numbers one and two are if this is three, but I don't know what the other candidate on his mind was if we up it to four. (Maybe he was just saying "three or four" as a rhetorical hedge.)

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:13 am

Tarantella wrote:You know, I'm not so struck on the Brahms Ballades or his Piano Sonatas, preferring instead the smaller pieces like Rhapsodies, Fantasies, Intermezzi etc. Also, the chamber works with piano and the two mighty concerti.
Sue there's a lot of Brahms I don't know but I love his symphonies--also the piano concertos and the violin concerto--wouldn't they all be considered his bigger works? Anyway I love them! Regards, Len

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:23 am

If you'd like to hear the Brahms variations, here's a great recording by the English pianist Solomon.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:41 am

Tarantella, I share your admiration for this piece. It has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it, on the radio, in a recording by Agustin Anievas. I still have that LP, and decades later, it still strikes me as a superb performance of a great work.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 16, 2013 9:17 am

John F wrote:If you'd like to hear the Brahms variations, here's a great recording by the English pianist Solomon.
Thanks, never heard it before--my own fault--I have at least 2 copies of it in the house--gotta go through my collection this winter--there may be others--that collection from my cousin's aunt.

On cd I have this one:
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur, conductor

and in my disorganized LP collection I have one with Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra--no pianist's name is given?

Also out of alphabetical order next to the Walter LP I found another Mozart Requiem--Karajan, Lipp, Rossl, Majdan, Dermota and Berry--Berlin Phil. I'll be playing the Requiem and the Brahms tonight at kitchen time--on first listening the Brahms Variations was very nice! Regards, Len

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 9:32 am

lennygoran wrote:
John F wrote:If you'd like to hear the Brahms variations, here's a great recording by the English pianist Solomon.
Thanks, never heard it before--my own fault--I have at least 2 copies of it in the house--gotta go through my collection this winter--there may be others--that collection from my cousin's aunt.

On cd I have this one:
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur, conductor

and in my disorganized LP collection I have one with Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra--no pianist's name is given?
I'm only not laughing because I almost made the same mistake when I came to this thread. Brahms's Haydn Variations are a work for orchestra. Even after I started reading Tarantella's post, I was thinking she was talking about Brahms's co-original version for two pianos. Then I actually woke up and realized that she was talking about the Handel set, which is for piano solo, and as far as I know does not exist in any transcription and may be untranscribable. (If I'm wrong, I'd love to hear the version for orchestra and chorus. :) ).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sat Nov 16, 2013 9:40 am

jbuck919 wrote:she was talking about the Handel set, which is for piano solo, and as far as I know does not exist in any transcription and may be untranscribable.
Toscanini conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Edmund Rubbra's version of the Handel variations. Can't say that it does much for the music - to the contrary, actually. Exhibit A for its being untranscribable. But here it is if you really want to hear it:

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 16, 2013 10:09 am

jbuck919 wrote: I'm only not laughing because I almost made the same mistake when I came to this thread. Brahms's Haydn Variations are a work for orchestra.
Ah so I got Handel and Hadyn variations confused--funny I also have a version of the Handel variations!

FRIEDRICH WÜHRER (1900-1975), piano

From wiki:

"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, is a highly imaginative, classically polished composition for solo piano penned by Johannes Brahms. It was composed in September 1861 as a birthday present for Clara Schumann, who was the widow of Brahms' musical and personal mentor, Robert Schumann. Shortly after Brahms gave the premiere in Vienna on November 29, 1861, Clara herself played the Handel Variations in a recital in Hamburg. The work was an important landmark in the developing career of the young Brahms.

Brahms borrowed the theme from an aria in the third movement of George Frideric Handel's Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in B-flat Major, HWV 434 (1733). In the Handel, the original theme is transformed into five variations. To explore the vast chromatic possibilities that were opened up by the inventive development of the piano from the harpsichord, Brahms enlarged the scope of his opus to a monumental 25 variations capped off by an extended fugue."

Now I see I also have a cd of:

Brahms Variations on a Theme by Schumann op 23 for piano duet
Nicholas Angelich
Lily Maisky

Regards, Len [head spinning]

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sat Nov 16, 2013 2:10 pm

It's very easy for people to get the two Variations confused: Haydn and Handel. Both are absolutely wonderful works; I just think the Handel is superior and it's, miraculously, the work of a young Brahms!!

Next year I'm presenting my second lecture for Music Appreciation on the relationship between the Schumanns and Brahms, the latter quite a bit younger than the Schumanns. I didn't realize that the Haydn Variations were a birthday present to Clara from Johannes and now I have a perfect excuse to put some of this work into my program!!!

I'm awaiting 2 books from Amazon but if anybody has any especial knowledge of this topic I'd appreciate some input via another thread - even an excellent reference. (I know I need to get a life, but researching for these lectures is proving a total joy and the audience has great expectations from what has previously been delivered!)

@John F: that Solomon performance is excellent, (though he is heavy with the pedalling in some parts) with nobility and grandeur in the right places!! I think tension needs to be built up for the Variation form generally, otherwise it can become a kind of amorphous collection of related pieces.

@jbuck919: The "three or four" greatest variations? It depends on whether Tovey meant variations for piano because this would undoubtedly mean "Goldberg" and "Diabelli", leaving the "third" possibility (if not a 'rhetorical hedge') that it might include variation MOVEMENTS within a single sonata, eg. "Hammerklavier". But if any instrument or combination then Paganini comes to mind also Bach's Chaconne in D from the Partita. But it's an interesting, somewhat open question which could be discussed elsewhere!!

@Len: The Brahms "Requiem" is another of his huge works, alongside the 4 symphonies, Violin Concerto, Double Concerto and 2 Piano Concerti. Many of his chamber works are not slight either!!

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 1:04 am

When I was at W.W. Norton, we published a "Norton Critical Score" of the variations: an introduction by the editor Donald McCorkle giving the historical background and some of Brahms's sketches and drafts, carefully edited scores of the orchestra and piano versions, four "views and comments" including selections by Brahms and Hanslick, and five analyses. A very convenient way to get into the piece in depth. It's still in print:

http://www.amazon.com/Variations-Theme- ... s+critical

The orchestral version is by far better known, but the version for two pianos is different in some details. For example, variation 7 begins with a mordent on the first note, a charming archaism that harks back to before Haydn and Pleyel, and that isn't in the orchestral version.

I can't find there or in Malcolm MacDonald's biography anything about Brahms "giving" the variations to Clara Schumann, on her birthday or otherwise. I did find this, in a footnote to McCorkle's introductory essay for the Norton Critical Score: "It was Brahms's custom for many years to dedicate and/or present a new composition to Clara on her birthday (September 13). Piano variations were especially highly regarded among these gifts. Such was the Handel Variations in 1861, which, on the penultimate draft (but not the printed edition) given to Clara, Brahms inscribed 'Variationen für eine liebe Freundin.' Previously, he had dedicated to her the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, and in 1860 the variations which were to become the Andante movement of the sextet op. 18."

As for the Haydn variations, "He was especially secretive about this composition, and one can therefore speculate that it was being kept under wraps as a surprise for Clara Schumann, under whose inspiration he had composed the Handel Variations 12 years earlier." Brahms had joined Clara Schumann in Bonn on the occasion of a Schumann Festival, and on August 20, the day after the festival ended, the two of them played through the variations in what McCorkle calls a "trial reading." This was more than three weeks before Clara's birthday, possibly for convenience's sake.

McCorkle says Brahms wrote to his friend Theodor Billroth in July of that year, saying that "'a volume of immensely difficult piano variations' was ready as an alternative offering should Billroth not wish to accept the dedication of a new string quartet which was in the offing." As it happened, Billroth did accept the dedication of the quartets op. 51, while both versions of the Haydn variations were published without dedications.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 3:09 am

John, you're amazing - thank you very much for this. I'll chase up that critical edition, but I'm after the Handel variations and cannot seem to find it in this series. My skills in harmonic analysis have disappeared over the years, sadly. (Too much time spent with English at school.) Recently I read some notes of mine from Musicology and I'd written down Dominant 9ths in Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" (and notes alongside the Norton Anthology of Western Music (NAWN) number) and I'm shattered to find I have forgotten all of this now!! My piano playing has also been neglected badly. I was even thinking of getting some refresher harmony and theory lessons again, but we've got plans to return to Vienna in 2014. Once over 60, time is of the absolute essence. So much to do, think and read about - not to mention listening - and less and less time to do it. What is one to do? :(

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:22 am

The Norton Critical Scores is a very limited series. I own a bunch of them from college days. Probably would have bought all of them if I had known that I would one day encounter John F. :mrgreen: Here is, apparently, the currently available list:

http://books.wwnorton.com/books/book-te ... =SortTitle

The Brahms Handel Variations are in the public domain and like so much else are available free through Wikipidea/IMSLP. (This is how I get almost all of my organ music.) As you will see, you can even get a facsimile of the holograph if that is what you want.

http://imslp.org/wiki/Variations_and_Fu ... ohannes%29

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 6:42 am

Tarantella wrote:Once over 60, time is of the absolute essence. So much to do, think and read about - not to mention listening - and less and less time to do it. What is one to do? :(
I'm over 60 too, in fact over 70, but all I can suggest is just to take one day at a time. We're not on a deadline, or if we are, we don't know what it is. :) I'd rather feel there's a lot out there to discover than that I've done it all - wouldn't you? Because of course there always is.

jbuck919's right, the Norton Critical Scores series covers only a small sampling of the core classical repertory. The idea, modeled on the Norton Critical Editions of literary works, was to provide sourcebooks for college music courses focusing on representative works most likely to be studied in depth. Unlike the NCEs, the Scores were not a big commercial success, and from the listing of titles that he found, I see that only a handful of titles were added after I left Norton in the 1980s. But they've kept those titles in print, as indeed Norton keeps most of its original publications in print indefinitely.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 17, 2013 9:50 am

Tarantella wrote: @Len: The Brahms "Requiem" is another of his huge works, alongside the 4 symphonies, Violin Concerto, Double Concerto and 2 Piano Concerti. Many of his chamber works are not slight either!!
Sue thanks--I had forgotten about that requiem--haven't played it in a long time--I think I'll put it on for tonight's kitchen work! The double concerto isn't ringing a bell--wow, fortunately I have at least one recording of it--I'll have to play it tonight too! Regards, Len

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 12:18 pm

Tarantella wrote:that Solomon performance is excellent, (though he is heavy with the pedalling in some parts)
I'm surprised, because for me Solomon's use of the pedals here is imaginative and effective. For example in variation 22 (17:55 in the YouTube clip), which Brahms marks "alla musette" but to me sounds like a little music box thanks to Solomon's way with the pedal - as marked in the score. But the recording in this transfer from the 78s lacks sharpness, as if the treble had been sharply cut, and that doesn't help.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 2:47 pm

Points taken and I'll listen again to the section in question and get back to you, because it's pouring here today and I'll have a bit of time this afternoon - in between 'Benny' Herrmann reading/research.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:52 pm

Tarantella wrote:
@Len: The Brahms "Requiem" is another of his huge works, alongside the 4 symphonies, Violin Concerto, Double Concerto and 2 Piano Concerti. Many of his chamber works are not slight either!!
Sue a followup--much to my horror I couldn't find a double concerto--went to you tube and downloaded this one:

Brahms Double Concerto : David Oistrakh (violin) & Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) / Complete.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WKpSDBvn9w

You could watch them playing--their facial expressions were incredible--like something out of an opera--especially Rostropovich

Then I checked my old cassettes and sure enough I had one:
Phil orch Isaac Stern Leonard Rose Eugene Ormandy

I ran into difficulty getting the ION tape express cassette imported to icloud--itunes made me uninstall my old version of itunes and install another one to make the import--finally I got both versions of the double concerto on to the pc--now I'm burning them both on to a cd.

I was listening to alot of the work and sure was surprised as I read wiki:
" Clara Schumann reacted unfavourably to the concerto, considering the work "not brilliant for the instruments".[7] Richard Specht also thought critically of the concerto, describing it as "one of Brahms' most inapproachable and joyless compositions". Brahms had sketched a second concerto for violin and cello but destroyed his notes in the wake of its cool reception."

It sounded darn good to me--thanks for mentioning it! Regards, Len

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:23 pm

It just occurred to me that the theme of the Handel variations begins with the same rise to and fall from a major third as the theme from the Goldberg variations, and that the first variation of both begins with the same brief figure. Of course I'm sure all of you noticed what must be an intentional tribute 30 years ago or more, and hope you won't fire me for being slow. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:46 pm

jbuck919 wrote:It just occurred to me that the theme of the Handel variations begins with the same rise to and fall from a major third as the theme from the Goldberg variations, and that the first variation of both begins with the same brief figure. Of course I'm sure all of you noticed what must be an intentional tribute 30 years ago or more, and hope you won't fire me for being slow. :)
This information moves me ineffably!! And, of course, only a musician or connoisseur would know any of that. Brahms so loved Beethoven, but don't we all? I love him above all others.

Far from being 'fired' you've been promoted; to the enviable and exalted position of musical super-sleuth. Our go-to man for the esoteric.

(And now I must rush to see my accountant....zzzzz)

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:53 pm

jbuck919 wrote:It just occurred to me that the theme of the Handel variations begins with the same rise to and fall from a major third as the theme from the Goldberg variations, and that the first variation of both begins with the same brief figure. Of course I'm sure all of you noticed what must be an intentional tribute 30 years ago or more, and hope you won't fire me for being slow. :)
Now, now. That's carrying the "sounds like" game too far, even for me. :D And after all, it's Handel not Brahms who composed the theme, and few things are less likely than that he was paying homage to his German contemporary. Brahms was quite capable of playing the sounds-like game himself, indeed the first variation is in a neo-Baroque style compatible with the theme (andwith Bach, if you like), and his procedure in these and his other variations was like Bach's and Beethoven's, composing new melodies over the original's bass line.

Glad you posted it, though, because for the first time it prompted me to listen to Handel's original and hear what he did with his own theme: he wrote variations. It's a movement in his harpsichord suite #1, beginning at 4:07 in this YouTube clip:



Going into direct competition with Handel took some nerve, and masterful as Brahms's op. 24 is, I don't think it makes Handel's less adventurous variations seem trivial. It's cool to hear two masters exploiting the same ground. (Yes, I did mean "ground" in that sense too.)
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 8:31 pm

I have to agree with jbuck's call on this one. Brahms always said he was 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and he wrote works with very much an eye back to our beloved Beethoven. I'll know more later when I've finished reading and researching for my Schumanns/Brahms lecture!!

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 17, 2013 8:38 pm

Tarantella wrote:I have to agree with jbuck's call on this one. Brahms always said he was 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and he wrote works with very much an eye back to our beloved Beethoven. I'll know more later when I've finished reading and researching for my Schumanns/Brahms lecture!!
It might be coincidence, or it might be a case of "any ass can see that," as Brahms said when someone pointed out the similarity of the theme of the last movement of the First Symphony with the theme of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth. Anyway, I enjoyed hearing the harpsichord suite.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 8:57 pm

Tarantella wrote:I have to agree with jbuck's call on this one. Brahms always said he was 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and he wrote works with very much an eye back to our beloved Beethoven. I'll know more later when I've finished reading and researching for my Schumanns/Brahms lecture!!
That's a mighty big implication to draw from just three notes. :) (The harmonic structure of the theme is Handel's, not Brahms's, and I believe it's not uncommon in the Baroque.) Brahms was indeed paying homage to a great Baroque composer, but it was Handel. Still, it's your lecture, and you can say what you will.

Brahms's big tune in the finale of the 1st symphony resembles Beethoven's in the 9th so closely its third phrase that any ass can indeed see it. But that resemblance is more distinctive and its place in the symphony far more prominent than the purported Brahms/Handel/Bach.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 10:24 pm

Naturally, I'll take your comments on board. And I'll email a pianist friend from Verona who is something of a Brahms expert!!

Now, listening again to the Solomon - which is a wonderful performance -the excessive pedalling (IMO) occurs at 4.54" right up to 5"52'. This is just my personal preference and I compare it with the Kovacevich which I know and love.

Somebody here, I've forgotten whom, recently wrote on the 'board that Kovacevich was a 'friend' of Martha Argerich. Yes, that's true but they were actually ONCE MARRIED.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Sun Nov 17, 2013 10:42 pm

Thanks for the pointer. That's variation 5 and I hear what you mean. Looking at the score, which jbuck919 pointed us to, I see that there are legato marks throughout and the general instructions "expressivo" and "sostenuto," for which Solomon uses the sustaining pedal. I don't know the Kovacevic recording but one I've just listened to, by Murray Perahia, is much more sparing of the pedal, with a gain in clarity for sure - but variation 5 comes out sounding like just a continuation of variation 4, while with Solomon it has a character of its own. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:09 pm

I didn't see the instructions for "sostenuto". Would that pedal have been available when Brahms composed this piece? Somebody has written on the published score "tre corda" in pencil and that's the only pedal instruction I could see. The legato (slurs) line seemed to have applied over particular musical phrases rather than one over-arching legato line (if I'm reading the score correctly). Anyway, I wouldn't want to tell a pianist how to play a work as I'm such a cheesy pianist myself and so third rate, more's the pity. I just prefer a slightly 'dryer' sound, if I can put it like that. And, actually, I noted some of the Variations are actually marked 'staccato'! Variation V1 prescribes "legato" and has the longer, slurred lines.

Great discussion to have for such a tragic like me!!!

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:20 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Tarantella wrote: @Len: The Brahms "Requiem" is another of his huge works, alongside the 4 symphonies, Violin Concerto, Double Concerto and 2 Piano Concerti. Many of his chamber works are not slight either!!
Sue thanks--I had forgotten about that requiem--haven't played it in a long time--I think I'll put it on for tonight's kitchen work! The double concerto isn't ringing a bell--wow, fortunately I have at least one recording of it--I'll have to play it tonight too! Regards, Len
Tonight's "kitchen work"? Wouldn't that lend itself to the Anvil Chorus? That or "Carmina Burana" if the dishes are really dirty!!!

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Mon Nov 18, 2013 6:10 am

Tarantella wrote:I didn't see the instructions for "sostenuto". Would that pedal have been available when Brahms composed this piece?
I'm definitely not a reliable source on the history of the piano, :) but one thing all pianos have had from the beginning is a pedal or lever to lift the dampers from all the strings until the player releases them. That's sometimes called the sustaining pedal, and I used the term to make the connection with Brahms's "sostenuto" instruction. Just a rhetorical trick, if you like; whether it's exactly what Brahms meant and wanted, I've no idea. Apparently Solomon thought so. Anyway, the answer to your question is yes.

Gieseking recorded all of Mozart's piano music for EMI without pedal, in effect castrating the music, because he believed Mozart's instrument didn't have one. Paul Badura-Skoda says that maybe Gieseking was too tall to look down under the keyboard and see the lever that Mozart pressed with his knee.

I don't know if this arrangement was common with 18th century pianos, but Mozart had a particular need for it, since he had a pedal keyboard built that went under the piano and allowed him to reinforce the bass as an organist would - no room for a sustaining pedal there! Mozart's scores don't have an independent part for the pedal keyboard and nobody knows just what use he made of it.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by lennygoran » Mon Nov 18, 2013 6:49 am

Tarantella wrote: Tonight's "kitchen work"? Wouldn't that lend itself to the Anvil Chorus? That or "Carmina Burana" if the dishes are really dirty!!!
Sue, I cook the meals--don't worry about dirty dishes--my Sue cleans up after dinner! Regards, Len :)

PS: loved the Brahams double concerto! Regards, Len

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:05 pm

John F wrote:I don't know if this arrangement was common with 18th century pianos, but Mozart had a particular need for it, since he had a pedal keyboard built that went under the piano and allowed him to reinforce the bass as an organist would - no room for a sustaining pedal there! Mozart's scores don't have an independent part for the pedal keyboard and nobody knows just what use he made of it.
The pedals are very effective for venting the need to curse while playing. :mrgreen:

Gieseking's interpretations "castrate" Mozart? A bit strong, don't you think? I also don't know the details of the design of 18th century pianos, but I do know this much, which does not necessarily contradict anything John F wrote: The sustaining pedal (the middle one on modern pianos) raises the dampers after a note has been struck. It is used to sustain the sound of struck notes while others are played with normal damping. If Lance is reading this, I'm sure he can enlighten us on what must be the incredibly complicated mechanism that makes this possible. In fact, many ordinary pianos do not have a true sustaining pedal. Instead, the middle pedal is a damper pedal that affects only the lower register. In any case, I doubt that most pianists use this pedal except very rarely.

"The pedal" that everyone talks about is the right-most one, the true damper pedal, which is used to raise the dampers during playing, i.e., to sustain the sound of the struck strings and keep them from being dampened. It is this pedal to which Beethoven was referring when he wrote his famous instruction over the first movement of the C-sharp minor "Moonlight" sonata. ("This movement should sound in the most delicate fashion, and throughout without [i.e., with raised] dampers.")

How important is either pedal in Mozart? Well, I would tend to think of them as involving the occasional special effect. I certainly prefer to play almost everything in Mozart without any pedal at all, there being no reason other than latter-day pianistic habit to sustain the sound from note to note. However, in Mozart's own cadenza for the Concerto K 488, he bangs out octaves in the bass that have to be sustained while other stuff goes on above (i.e., a use for the sustaining pedal). I'm sure there are other passages, but this one sticks out in my mind.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:19 pm

Solomon was making a personal artistic choice when used the damper pedal as he played that 5th Variation in the Brahms Handel Variations and Fugue, since there are no pedal instructions in either that published score or in Brahms's original, going by the link provided by jbuck. Undoubtedly some editor published an 'updated' version and that's the one Solomon was using? It's creatively permissible, but I just don't think it works in what is otherwise a very great performance.

I've always believed that the sostenuto pedal (the one which allows some notes to sustain while others remain the same) was, in part, a factor in the sound-world of Debussy. I always thought the 'damper pedal' held all the notes. In short, piano technology had an impact upon composition (because, as we know, technological advancements in other instruments influenced composition). Perhaps Lance can set us straight on this?

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by John F » Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:43 pm

You're right about the sostenuto pedal, but it's not the same as the sustaining pedal, even though "sustenuto" means "sustained." The sostenuto pedal is in the center, the sustaining pedal on the right. (The pedal on the left is for una corda.) You're also right that Brahms doesn't mark any pedaling in this variation. Just how notes are played sostenuto without use of the sustaining pedal, I wouldn't know, since I'm not a pianist. So I guess we might as well leave it at that!

One of the Handel variations surely needs the sostenuto pedal: #9, marked "poco sostenuto," in which the B flat (et seq.) is to be sustained for nearly two whole bars while both hands are busy with octaves. If that's poco sostenuto, then I wonder what molto sostenuto might be. Charles Rosen says Brahms deliberately wrote his piano music to make it awkward to play, and I can well believe it.
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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Auntie Lynn » Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:06 pm

Anybody else play this? I played it yesterday. Like Mozart, it's one of those pieces that's as much fun to play as to listen to...

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:21 pm

Auntie Lynn wrote:Anybody else play this? I played it yesterday. Like Mozart, it's one of those pieces that's as much fun to play as to listen to...
I'm afraid we don't have many members who can toss off the Handel Variations and perform Gaspard de la nuit for an encore. The wording of questions about what planet you actually come from, etc., is being carefully considered. :wink:

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:25 pm

Aunty Lynn, I wish you were my Aunty!! Mine are all farmer's wives!!

My piano teacher used to be able to sight-read "Le Tombeau de Couperin", Prokofiev's piano sonata No. 7, some pieces by Ginastera and many of the Beethoven piano sonatas. In fact, my "lessons" were listening to him play these and then both of us discussing and deconstructing them!!! His day job was as a farm owner of beef cattle and he eventually destroyed his hands doing this and fencing!! He died, an unfulfilled musician, of lung cancer at 44 years of age in 2008.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:31 pm

Tarantella wrote:Aunty Lynn, I wish you were my Aunty!! Mine are all farmer's wives!!

My piano teacher used to be able to sight-read "Le Tombeau de Couperin", Prokofiev's piano sonata No. 7, some pieces by Ginastera and many of the Beethoven piano sonatas. In fact, my "lessons" were listening to him play these and then both of us discussing and deconstructing them!!! His day job was as a farm owner of beef cattle and he eventually destroyed his hands doing this and fencing!! He died, an unfulfilled musician, of lung cancer at 44 years of age in 2008.
That is a pity about your piano teacher, but I wonder how many times he sight-read Le Tombeau and all those Beethoven sonatas. :wink: (I assume you mean he played them well repeatedly without much practice from the score in front of him, which is a wonderful ability but not the same thing as sight reading.)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:12 pm

He hardly ever played the piano after he left the Conservatorium. So, he had to sight-read the works because he had let them go for so long, but he also sight-read anything I'd take out of his music library. A wasted talent who smoked and drank himself to death.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:15 pm

Tarantella wrote:He hardly ever played the piano after he left the Conservatorium. So, he had to sight-read the works because he had let them go for so long, but he also sight-read anything I'd take out of his music library. A wasted talent who smoked and drank himself to death.
Dreadful story and sorry for you that the loss was so framed.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Tarantella » Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:18 pm

Thank you for that. I put the complete Chopin "Ballades" on top of his coffin during his funeral service.

He loved music as I do and I never knew him to ever say a bad word about another human being.

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Auntie Lynn » Tue Nov 19, 2013 12:54 am

There was a funny story over on the old Classical Insites a long time ago (you shoulda been there...) Anyway the narrator stated he attended a recital by Manny Ax. Manny showed up looking deathly ill. He was positively green. Sat down and played all four Chopin Ballades (divinely) and fled the stage timely. The show must go on... I have gotten up off my deathbed a number of times to show up on the job and nobody knew the diff...

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Auntie Lynn » Tue Nov 19, 2013 10:21 am

Errrrrrrrrrr, maybe we had better clarify. One does NOT usually play Gaspard as an encore. It was the next to last number on the program at this particular outing. The last number was the Allegro Barbaro, another fun piece to play if you're doing it right. There are a thousand piano players in this town better than I am but they cannot do what I do, at least not well. If I am the best at what I do, it is because the people who hire me tell me that, so hold your fire...

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:00 am

Auntie Lynn wrote:Errrrrrrrrrr, maybe we had better clarify. One does NOT usually play Gaspard as an encore.
My dear Lynn, one does not usually play Gaspard at all. It was a facetious exaggeration in reaction to the casual way in which you present yourself as a virtuoso pianist. Not that I don't enjoy it when you post that way. With all respect to the excellent Donald Isler, it makes you unique around here. Can't wait to hear about when you played both books of Chopin Etudes in one recital. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Brahms, Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel

Post by Steinway » Thu Nov 21, 2013 2:13 pm

"My piano teacher used to be able to sight-read "Le Tombeau de Couperin", Prokofiev's piano sonata No. 7, some pieces by Ginastera and many of the Beethoven piano sonatas. In fact, my "lessons" were listening to him play these and then both of us discussing and deconstructing them!!!"

A remarkable statement, which defies reality unless "sight reading" means playing all or attempting to play all of the written notes without any regard for performance quality. :wink:

Re the Handel Variations, there are so many fine readings of this masterpiece, but there are three which I find exceptional, Ashkenazy, Bolet and my top favorite, Arnaldo Cohen.

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