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DIETRICH/SCHUMANN/BRAHMS: “F-A-E” Sonata for Violin and Piano
Born Forsthaus Golk, near Meissen, Aug. 28, 1829; died Berlin, Nov. 20, 1908
Born Zwickau, June 8, 1810; died Endenich, July 28, 1856
Born Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died Vienna, April 3, 1897
"F-A-E" Sonata for Violin and Piano
Composed in 1853; 22 minutes
In the fall of 1853, 20-year-old Johannes Brahms traveled to Düsseldorf to meet the man he admired above all living composers. Robert Schumann had heard about Brahms from their mutual friend, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. He welcomed his visitor warmly and promptly introduced him to his student Albert Dietrich. “Someone is here,” Schumann said, “of whom we shall one day hear all sorts of wonderful things.” According to Dietrich, he and Schumann were instantly taken with “the interesting and unusual-looking musician, who, seemingly hardly more than a boy in his short gray summer coat, with his high voice and long fair hair, made a most striking impression. Especially fine were his energetic, characteristic mouth and the earnest deep gaze in which his gifted nature was clearly revealed.”
Acting on impulse, as was his wont, Schumann proposed that the three of them team up to write a sonata “in anticipation of the arrival of the revered and beloved friend Joseph Joachim,” who was due to give a concert in Düsseldorf under Schumann’s baton at the end of October. The result was the cryptically named, and rarely performed, "F-A-E" Sonata. The anagram stands for “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely), a musical motto that had special resonance for the violinist; as he explained to Schumann, he would like to have married but reluctantly decided to remain single. Schumann himself wrote the second and fourth movements of this hybrid sonata. Brahms’s Scherzo is the third movement, while Dietrich contributed the opening Allegro.
To lend some semblance of unity to this motley confection, the ground rules called for each composer to incorporate the notes f-a-e into his music as a motif. (Schumann was a past master at embedding hidden meanings in his work.) Dietrich dutifully produced an expansive sonata-form allegro in A minor, throbbing with passion and restless chromaticism, in which the f-a-e motto is prominently stated by the violin both near the beginning and at the very end. Schumann’s short, graceful Intermezzo revolves almost entirely around the motif, which, however, doesn’t put in an appearance until midway through his exuberantly virtuosic Finale. Only Brahms, always insistent on going his own way, refused to play the game: the motto is nowhere to be heard amid the robust lyricism and driving cross-rhythms of his charming Scherzo.
Joachim was presented with his surprise gift the day after his performance with Schumann’s orchestra. He and Clara Schumann, a world-renowned pianist, proceeded to sight-read the moderately challenging score. Then, to the delight of the assembled guests, the violinist played a musical guessing game and accurately identified the anonymous composer of each of the four movements.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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BRAHMS: Sonata for Viola and Piano No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 120, No. 2
Sonata for Viola and Piano No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 120, No. 2
Composed in 1894; 22 minutes
In January 1891, Brahms made an extended visit to Meiningen, where his friend and ardent champion Hans von Bülow conducted the renowned court orchestra. The 57-year-old composer was gradually withdrawing from public life; the Op. 111 String Quintet, composed in the fall of 1890, was meant to be his swan song. In Meiningen, however, Brahms found himself unexpectedly bowled over by the playing of the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld. It is to Mühlfeld’s virtuosity (Brahms called him the “nightingale of the orchestra”) that we owe the late flowering of his interest in the clarinet as expressed in the Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, and the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, both written in 1891, as well as the two Sonatas for Clarinet (or Viola) and Piano, Op. 120, of 1894.
Brahms had both practical and personal reasons for writing optional viola parts for the Clarinet Sonatas and Trio. For one thing, he and his publisher wanted to capture the widest possible market for the sheet music. (Schumann published a number of his chamber works in alternate instrumental versions for the same reason.) For another, Brahms, like Mozart, had a special affinity for the viola. He used its burnished, caramely timbre to wondrous effect in both his orchestral works and his chamber music, notably the great string quintets and sextets and the Two Songs for Mezzo-Soprano, Viola, and Piano. In his enthusiasm for the clarinet, Brahms went so far as to tell a friend that it was “much more adapted to the piano than string instruments.” Yet there is no hint in either the E-flat-Major Sonata or its companion in F Minor that he had any qualms about the viola’s ability to hold its own in combination with the piano.
The Allegro amabile (a rather unusual marking that Brahms also used in his A-major Violin Sonata of 1886) is both amiable and characteristically warm-blooded, its sweetly yearning first theme contrasting with lyrical effusions of a more muscular variety. The younger Brahms might have developed this material more elaborately and at greater length, but at this stage of his life economy, transparency, and directness of expression were paramount. The music is steeped in mellow wistfulness, as if the 61-year-old composer is looking back indulgently over a life filled with love and disappointment. Even the fiery Allegro appassionato, in E-flat minor, is tinged with regret; the impetuous ardor of the outer sections is tempered by the noble resolve of the major-key interlude. In lieu of a conventional finale, Brahms substitutes a genial, richly inventive theme-and-variations movement, marked Andante con moto, that combines passion and reflection in equal measure.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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BRAHMS: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108
Composed in 1886-88; 22 minutes
Brahms first met Joseph Joachim in Hanover in the spring of 1853, a few months before the reunion in Düsseldorf that gave rise to the "F-A-E" Sonata. Although only two years older than the composer, Joachim, the concertmaster of the Hanover court orchestra, was already an international celebrity. As much as Brahms admired his virtuosity on the violin, he respected the Hungarian even more as a composer and frequently turned to him for advice. "As an artist I really have no greater wish than to have more talent so that I can learn still more from such a friend," he wrote in the first flush of their friendship. Joachim, for his part, recognized Brahms's character flaws as well as his genius. The composer, he told a friend, was "egoism incarnate," whose "malicious sarcasm" and "exuberant thoughtlessness" often offended even his closest allies. Joachim's practical knowledge of both the violin and the orchestra made him an invaluable sounding board, especially in the decade between 1878 and 1888, when Brahms was writing his D-major Violin Concerto and three violin sonatas.
Brahms’s third sonata, in the “dark” key of D minor, is weightier and more overtly dramatic than its predecessors in G major and A major. Its dedicatee, Hans von Bülow, cut a notably titanic figure at the keyboard as well as on the podium, and the sonata’s impassioned, virtuosic character may well bear his stamp as much as that of Joachim. On a deeper level, the music may also allude to Brahms's long-simmering love for the pianist Clara Schumann, which every now and then rose to a rolling boil. That, at any rate, is how Clara seems to have interpreted it. Upon receiving the score, she wrote coquettishly to the 55-year-old composer that the third movement reminded her of "a beautiful girl sweetly frolicking with her lover--then suddenly in the middle of it all, a flash of deep passion, only to make way for sweet dalliance once more."
Whatever the nature of the feelings it expresses, the Op. 108 Sonata is unmistakably infused with passion. From the first bars of the opening Allegro, the staggered eighth notes and recurrent dynamic swellings reflect the music’s underlying turbulence. The mood of barely contained wildness is briefly dispelled in the majestic D-major Adagio—despite its brevity, one of Brahms’s most concentratedly intense slow movements. This leads to an ethereal scherzo in F-sharp minor, marked Un poco presto e con sentimento, whose opening theme returns at the end in a deceptively tranquil reminiscence. (Clara likened this delicate and devilishly difficult passage to walking on eggshells.) In the final Presto agitato, the sonata’s pent-up energy bursts forth in a high-spirited romp in 6/8 meter, charged with stabbing accents and syncopations.
© 2012 Harry Haskell
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One of the most exciting and respected violinists of our time, Julian Rachlin has captivated audiences around the world with his distinctively rich sound and superb musicianship. He has also established himself as a leading viola player, festival director and, most recently, conductor.
This past summer marked the 12th anniversary of Mr. Rachlin’s internationally renowned “Julian Rachlin & Friends” festival, a platform for creative projects involving leading musicians and actors, held in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Two months ago, Mr. Rachlin gave the world premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Double Concerto for Violin and Viola with violinist Janine Jansen and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons, at the Musikverein in Vienna; the work was written for Mr. Rachlin.
Upcoming orchestral appearances by Mr. Rachlin include the Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev, the Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta and Christoph von Dohnanyi, the Orchestre national de France with Semyon Bychkov, the Orchestre national de Lyon with Leonard Slatkin and the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrey Boreyko.
These 92nd Street Y performances are part of Mr. Rachlin and Mr. Golan’s presentation of the Brahms violin and viola sonatas cycles around the world, with other recitals in such venues as the Tel Aviv Museum, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. Mr. Rachlin will also be both conductor and soloist with the Israel Philharmonic, the Kremerata Baltica, the Lucerne Symphony, the Sinfonica Heliopolis and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Rachlin’s recordings for Sony Classical, Warner Classics and Deutsche Grammophon have all met with great acclaim. His recent discs include Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, chamber music by Shostakovich and Bach’s Goldberg Variations transcribed for String Trio. Mr. Rachlin also receives recognition for his charity work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and his educational outreach.
Born in Lithuania, Julian Rachlin immigrated to Vienna with his family when he was three years old. He gained international acclaim overnight by winning the “Young Musician of the Year” Award at the Eurovision Competition in Amsterdam while in his early teens. He then became the youngest soloist ever to play with the Vienna Philharmonic. Mr. Rachlin has been on the faculty of the Konservatorium at the University of Vienna since 1999.
Mr. Rachlin plays the 1704 “Ex-Liebig” Stradivari, on loan to him courtesy of the Dkfm. Angelika Prokopp Privatstiftung. He also plays the 1786 viola by Nicola Bergonzi, on loan to him courtesy of Dmitry Gindin, London. His website is julianrachlin.com
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For more than two decades, pianist Itamar Golan has been partnering with many of the foremost instrumentalists of our time, making him one of the most sought after pianists of his generation and earning him critical acclaim around the world. Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Mr. Golan immigrated to Israel with his family when he was one year old. There he began his musical studies, and at the age of 7, he gave his first recital in Tel Aviv. Through scholarships from the America- Israel Cultural Foundation, Mr. Golan continued his studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Since his earliest years, Mr. Golan’s passion has been chamber music. He has performed with violinists Ida Haendel, Schlomo Mintz, Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov; violist Tabea Zimmermann; cellists Matt Haimovitz and Torleif Thedeen; clarinetists Martin Frost and Sharon Kam; soprano Barbara Hendricks, and many others. He made his 92nd Street Y debut in 1993 with Mr. Mintz and has also appeared here with Mr. Vengerov and violinist Sergiu Schwartz.
Mr. Golan has also been engaged as soloist by such major orchestras as the Berlin and Israel philharmonics under Zubin Mehta, the Royal Philharmonic with Daniele Gatti, the Filharmonica della Scala and Vienna Philharmonic with Riccardo Muti, and the Philarmonia Orchestra with Lorin Maazel. He is a frequent participant at many prestigious international music festivals, including Salzburg, Verbier, Edinburgh, Lucerne, Tanglewood and Ravinia, and he has made numerous recordings for labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, Warner Classics, Decca, Teldec, EMI and Sony Classical.
From 1991 to 1994, Mr. Golan was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, making him one of the youngest teachers ever to serve there. Since 1994, he has been professor of chamber music at the Paris Conservatory.
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