Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 2 composed in 1852
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Adagio non troppo, ma energico
Andante con espressione
Scherzo: Allegro – Poco più moderato
Finale: Sostenuto – Allegro non troppo e rubato
Program note by Harry Haskell © 2018:
When Schumann introduced Brahms to the world in a laudatory article published in Europe’s leading music journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, on October 28, 1853, the 20-year-old composer and pianist had been the Schumanns’ house guest in Düsseldorf for a month. The older man’s positive first impressions of his visitor had been amply confirmed. “You and I understand each other,” Schumann remarked after hearing Brahms play a selection of his early piano music, including the freshly minted Sonata in F-sharp Minor. Brahms responded in kind: in sending Schumann a batch of his published scores at the end of the year, he referred to his works as “your first foster children (who owe to you their citizenship of the world).”
Schumann may have been Brahms’ musical stepfather, but it was his wife, Clara, a renowned concert pianist and composer in her own right, who would be the younger man’s lifelong muse, confidante and most trusted critic. It was to Clara that Brahms dedicated the Op. 2 Sonata (having first tactfully sought Robert’s consent); she was the “dear lady friend” for whom he wrote the Handel Variations after Robert’s tragic death in 1856; and it was to her that he turned for approval many years later in composing his valedictory Klavierstücke, Op. 119. Despite Clara’s unwavering devotion to her husband’s memory, she was no less steadfast in her affection for Brahms. “I have never loved a friend as I love him,” she told her children, “it is the most beautiful mutual understanding of two souls.”
The three piano sonatas Brahms wrote between 1852 and 1854 were a kind of rite of passage. It was as if he felt the need to establish his credentials in a genre that was still closely associated with Beethoven before moving on to other things. (For the same reason he hesitated for many years before writing his first string quartet and symphony.) That the piano sonata had fallen out of fashion in the mid-1800s was due in no small measure to Schumann, who had had popularized and perfected the genre of the short character piece. Clara described Brahms’ early sonatas and other piano works as “rich in fantasy, depth of feeling and mastery of form”—in other words, a blend of Classical discipline and Romantic freedom. Echoing Robert’s comparison of the sonatas to “veiled symphonies,” she predicted that Brahms would find “the true medium for his imagination” in writing for the orchestra.
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