Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Monday, May 03, 2010

What is a "Klavierstucke?"

The last of my solo Brahms piano recordings are entitled "Klavierstucke." Aside from this, I had to learn the definitions of some compositional form Brahms used in his solo piano works.

A Klavierstucke is a collection of works, some of which can stand on their own outside the collection.

The first CD is disc five in the collection of solo works. It consists of Ops. 10, 79, and 76. Op. 10 is a set of four "Ballades." Here is a video of the second ballade in the work.



According to Wikipedia, "A ballade (French for "ballad") refers to a one-movement musical piece with lyrical and dramatic narrative qualities." These early Op. 10 works must have been written around the time Brahms was staying with the Schumann's. There is also a ballade in his Op. 118 works, about which I will talk later.

I have two sets of recordings for the ballades, (as well as the Op. 79 rhapsodies coming up). The first, from the big collection, is played by Hakon Austbo (he is the performer of both discs five and six). In all of Austbo's performances I found the works played in what I would call a very workman-like way. It's not that they aren't played well, but they seem to lack a depth of feeling that is to be found in these works.

On the other hand, the second performer (who plays most of the same works as discs five and six of the big collection), Nicholas Angelich, puts the emotion into his playing that I imagine Brahms intended. Here's a sample of him performing the first ballade of Op. 10.



The next Brahms work I studied was Op. 79, "Rhapsodies." According to Wikipedia, "A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, color and tonality." Both of these rhapsodies are in a minor mode (B minor and G minor), and exhibit the kind of free moving music and emotion for which this form is known.

I don't have a recording of Angelich playing the Klavierstucke Op. 76, just one performed by Austbo. For this work, I had to learn the definition of a "capriccio", which (again, from Wikipedia) "...is a piece of music, usually fairly free in form and of a lively character. The typical capriccio is one that is fast, intense, and often virtuosic in nature.." Op. 76 starts with two of these, followed by two "intermezzi," (I suggest you read the wikipedia link for this one). In all there are four capricci and four intermezzi in Op. 76.

Finally, we get to later works Brahms wrote near the end of his life. These consist of a Fantasien, Op. 116, an Intermezzi, Op. 117, and Klavierstucke Ops. 118-119. A new term for me came from Op. 118, which contained a "Romanze." I was lucky to find a video of Evgeny Kissin performing the romanze.



The Op. 119 consists of three intermezzi, and an ending rhapsody. As the last solo piano works written by Brahms, these works are simply beautiful. Here is the second movement played by Irena Koblar, Brahms Op. 119, Intermezzo in E minor.



I had a hard time getting into these pieces, which is why it took so long to write this entry. To fully appreciate the music, I had to simply sit and listen. I think that may be at the heart of many Brahms' pieces, which might be why Brahms had so many detractors in his lifetime. While some of his music grabs you at first listening (take his second piano concerto, for example), some requires multiple plays before you "get it." It's a little easier now, as we have instant access to the music (just play the CD again), whereas in Brahms time, to hear a piece you had to either hear it in concert, or play it yourself. As for the latter, his solo works could sometimes be too virtuosic for the average amateur pianist. So, if you find yourself paying for a seat at a concert, you want to hear music you will like and understand. I think this is as true today as it was in the 19th century. Some of Brahms' works (some, perhaps much of the classical music repertoire as well) requires the listener to work in order to understand the music.

So, on to some chamber works.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the notes! I'm working on op118 now and boy is there a lot to know if you want to make sense of it. You just can't play from the score without a good analysis of the harmony and an concept of where he's going.

I agree that this music seems a little confused at first until you get your head into it and then it literally sweeps you off your feet with it's intensity of feeling. As a piano student I think it's well worth a year of my life to really know this piece.

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