Garrick Ohlsson—Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 - 92Y, New York

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Garrick Ohlsson—Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24

Apr 28, 2019

Garrick Ohlsson, piano
 
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 composed in 1861
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
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Aria
Variation 1
Variation 2: Animato
Variation 3: Dolce
Variation 4: Risoluto
Variation 5: Espressivo
Variation 6
Variation 7: Con vivacità
Variation 8
Variation 9: Poco sostenuto
Variation 10: Energico
Variation 11: Dolce
Variation 12: Soave
Variation 13: Largamente, ma non più
Variation 14: Sciolto
Variation 15
Variation 16: Ma marcato
Variation 17: Più mosso
Variation 18: Grazioso
Variation 19: Leggiero e vivace
Variation 20: Legato
Variation 21: Dolce
Variation 22
Variation 23: Vivace e staccato
Variation 24
Variation 25
Fugue
 
Performed in Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street Y on April 28, 2019.
 
Program note by Harry Haskell © 2018:
Composed in 1861, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel was an early fruit of Brahms' lifelong cultivation of variation form. An avid student of music history, he relished the challenge of erecting new structures on old foundations. It mattered little whether the base he built upon was a popular folksong, one of his own melodies, or a theme by Handel, Paganini or Schumann. The important thing, he told the violinist Joseph Joachim, was that variation form “must be kept stricter, purer.” The old masters, Brahms observed, were rigorous in their use of ground bass and other variation techniques, whereas he and his contemporaries tended to “rummage around the theme. We keep anxiously to the melody, but we do not treat it freely, do not actually create anything new from it, but only load it down. Thus, the melody is barely recognizable.”

The melody with which Brahms’ Op. 24 opens—a gaily tripping “aria” in B-flat major taken from one of Handel’s harpsichord suites—is followed by 25 miniature variations ranging in length from half a minute to a minute and a half, culminating in a long fugue of Bachian intricacy and splendor. The work constitutes an impressive catalogue of variation techniques and musical styles, from simple dances to finger-twisting etudes and wistful romances. But even more noteworthy, in light of the importance Brahms attached to the harmonic foundation of the theme, is the dazzling array of bass patterns he creates—crisply marching basses, smoothly descending chromatic lines, strummed chords, billowing arpeggios and scales, drumbeat-style repeating figures and even drones (in the tinkly “music box” Variation 22). Small wonder that when Brahms played the Handel Variations for Richard Wagner in 1864, the prophet of the “Artwork of the Future” remarked admiringly, “One sees what may still be done in the old forms when someone comes along who knows how to use them.”
 
Categories: Concerts