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Johannes Brahms

Monday, July 25, 2016


My Classical Notes

Yesterday

Playlist: David Oistrakh’s Magic

My Classical NotesWhen I was a young lad studying the violin, David Oistrakh was performing all over the world, and he became my hero. I was astounded that a sound like his could emanate from such a small wooden “box”. Later, after my studies continued at the Manhattan School of Music, and also privately in Vienna, my appreciation for this great artist matured. I have prepared a playlist for your enjoyment and it appears below. The first three tracks are devoted to the violin concerto by Johannes Brahms. I especially like the second movement. The remaining four tracks are devoted to Brahms’ violin and piano sonata number 3. just click on what you would like to hear:

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

Yesterday

What Hélène Grimaud did when her orchestra went missing

The plane carrying the Australian Youth Orchestra was unable to take off from Hamburg in a storm warning yesterday, leaving the French pianist facing a festival audience at Redefin all on her own. She had been scheduled to play the Brahms D minor concerto, conducted by Manfred Honeck, in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern festival. What to do? With time ticking out, Hélène called the cellist Jan Vogler who had worked with her on a few CDs, and asked if he could get to the venue for a 6pm start. Jan could. It happened so fast, the festival failed to change its website . Pianist and cellist played a selection of pieces from their CD repertoire. Those who did not wish to stay were offered ticket refunds. The AYO messages: The tour road was a little bumpy today as cancelled flights, thunderstorms and other circumstances in Germany kept us from reaching Redefin in time for our third European concert…. We are now back on the road, ready to take on our remaining six concerts across Europe, China and at home.




My Classical Notes

July 14

Carlos Kleiber, Rest in Peace

Conductor Carlos Kleiber was born on July 3, 1930, in Berlin, where his Viennese father conducted the Berlin State Opera. The elder Kleiber, opposed to the Nazi regime and its restrictions on performances of modern musical works, left Germany in 1935 and moved his family to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Carlos Kleiber learned English from his American mother and from English-language schools in Argentina and New York. His father discouraged Carlos’ interest in music, so he studied chemistry at a college in Zurich, but he had begun to compose music at age 9 and by 20 was studying conducting in earnest. “What a pity he is musical,” his father wrote in a letter in 1954. Mr. Kleiber, who lived most of his adult life in Zurich surrounded by thousands of recordings and books, was fluent in six languages and had a strong interest in literature and politics. Mr. Kleiber died on July 13 2004 in Switzerland. As a conductor, he demanded double or triple the typical number of rehearsals. And he rarely announced what he would conduct in advance, deciding on repertory when he showed up for rehearsals. Despite his vast knowledge of the music repertory, he only conducted a handful of symphonies, concertos and operas. In my view, his somewhat limited conducting repertoire led to his amazing excellence. I treasure listening to his interpretation of the Brahms symphonies and a few symphonies by Mozart. He is amazing in leading Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. And one of his greatest strengths is the style he brings to the music on Johann Strauss. As one watches old rehearsals, you can see Kleiber’s whole body moving elegantly with the rhythm of a Strauss waltz, or with the music of Die Fledermaus. Let me show you how Carlos Kleiber conducted Strauss:



Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 14

An English writer tells the Germans, what is German

I had a call the other day from the deputy editor of Bild, the Berlin tabloid, asking if I – as a foreigner with a strong interest in German culture – might contribute to a daily series they were running, titled Was ist deutsch? My first inclination was to decline. Who am I, after all, to tell the Germans what is German, or the Pope who is a Catholic? But a boyhood memory, risen from nowhere, proved too powerful to resist – especially in the present context when my country is redefining its position towards European civilisation. So this is what I wrote. (And the headline writer decided that I was, after all, a Pope.) Below is the (slightly fuller) English version of my article: What is German? I grew up in a North London community of Orthodox Jews, most of whom fled Germany after January 1933. Each Friday night they welcomed in the Sabbath to a tune from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. When talking culture, which they did obsessively, they spoke of ‘unser Goethe, unser Wagner’ – claiming stubborn ownership of a civilisation from which they had been racially excluded. That phrase, ‘unser Wagner’, stuck in my mind as something more profound and enduring than the traumas of Hitler’s Reich. The phrase taught me that what is German does not necessarily belong in Germany, and that the best of Germany belongs to a world beyond, a world where ideas travel by wordless transmission, a world where we can all be for a few concentrated minutes – or five concentrated hours, if it’s Wagner – intellectually, spiritually and aspirationally German. To be German, in this sense, is an out-of-body state, a transcendent exaltation. As a music critic, living in England, this idea formed part of my emerging Weltanschauung. The serenity of a Schubert Lied was not defined by the language of its verses; rather, it was achieved by the fusion of language with music and vocal expression into an ineffable wonder, one of the few precious ways we tiny humans can always understand each other. Beethoven himself was no less German when briefly enthused by Napoleon than he was when he wrote ‘Ah, perfido’ in the language of a country that existed only in his mind. Beethoven from Bonn, as much a Louis as a Ludwig, never traded in his van for a von. Being German in the age of Bismarck required Brahms and Wagner to relate to national revivalism, Wagner unpleasantly so. Yet if I sit in front of a page of orchestral writing by Wagner and another by Berlioz, I might be hard pressed to tell which is French and which German so powerful is the artistic impulse to reach beyond borders. With Gustav Mahler it becomes complicated. Using German as his mother tongue Mahler applied inflections of Jewish irony that imbue his music with challenging ambiguity. Yet a song like Um Mitternacht is neither more nor less German, in the most exalted sense, than Richard Strauss in ‘Beim Schlafengehen.’ At such moments, who does not want to be German? I write that question with a grimace of pain. Seventeen million of my countrymen have voted to deny John Donne’s poetic line that ‘No man is an island’. Emotional barriers are going up. England is drifting into the unknown. At this time, ‘what is German’ takes on a different connotation for me. It stands for ‘unser Wagner’, all that we now stand to lose. © Norman Lebrecht

Johannes Brahms
(1833 – 1897)

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works; he also worked with some of the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.



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