Johannes Brahms Op. 116, 117, 118
Johannes Brahms Op. 116, 117, 118
Maria Efstratiadis piano
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His family belonged to the lower middle class, with his father playing at the local military band. From a young age, Johannes showed his musical talent and interests and studied, for a relatively short time, piano with Cossel, as well as theory and composition with Marxsen.
He spent most of his life in Northern Germany, but in 1874 he settled in Vienna, which almost became his “second homeland” and where he died in 1897. Having won recognition as one of the leading figures of his time, he was given a funeral with honours and buried in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, next tο Beethoνen and Schubert.
In Germany, he had the chance to meet Ed. Reményi, a Hungarian violinist, with whom he performed in chamber music concerts for some time and had the opportunity to reveal his exceptional skills in piano and music in general. It was through Reményi that he later met the extraordinarily gifted -and already famous- violinist Joseph Joachim. In 1853 in Dusseldorf, Joachim introduced him to Schumann, having previously presented him to Liszt in Weimar. Brahms’s life spans the entire late German Romanticism. He met most of its representatives in person and did not hesitate to voice his feelings and opinions about them and their works publicly: not only his approval and unreserved admiration of Schumann for example, but also his dislike and disapproval of others, such as Liszt. Brahms’s friendship with Robert and Clara Schumann, full of devotion, is well-known. It is worth noting that Schumann, soon after he met Brahms (who was 20 years old at the time), presented him to music listeners with an enthusiastic article in the music magazine he published (the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik”) as a surprising, promising and refreshing “phenomenon” in music!
In return for this unusually generous gesture by the mature and renowned creator to a young musician like Brahms, the latter composed his first significant completed work for piano: ”Variations on a theme by Schumann”!
The deeply romantic, “North German” nature of Brahms was not indifferent to the poetry of this period; reading great German romantic poets was a daily pastime and pleasure for him. But this romantic nature could not defeat his mental urge, his passion for expending “spiritual labour” in the creative process, for elaborating his musical impulses, for rigour, for achieving the maximum unity of the elements in each work – which also explains his immense admiration for the morphological achievements of German music in its glorious past. Thus, from a technical aspect, the polymorphic uses, the processes of any type of thematic development and variation, especially the application of the classical bithematic allegro sonata (with the dialectical triad of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis), characterize the morphological processes in his music. This was in contrast to other composers of his time, who turned to the “singing and expressive” two- or three-part “second movement” or to the classical sonata-rondo form (without the dancing element). This brought about his clash with “progressive” German composers -who had named themselves “Neudeutsche” (“New Germans”), with Liszt and Wagner as their leading figures- which broadened the warring factions and resulted in forming the two well-known “camps” of Brahmsists and Wagnerists!
Nowadays, of course, this dispute surprises us with its intensity and extensiveness, as we have come to acknowledge that both sides have bequeathed us significant work. But it also shows that a “new” (hence “original”) morphoplastic achievement in art is not always of subversive intent or of ideological conception; that we recognize the historic significance of those who “did not come to abolish but to fulfil” (such as Palestrina in the Renaissance or Bach in the Baroque era) and that we are even deeply indebted to them for the work they bequeathed to us – much more so when we consider how hard this is, compared to following a modernism of any kind, and what courage and character it takes to achieve this productive combination of conservative continuity and innovative expression of musical ideas.
Even though the romantic element and feeling is prevalent in all of Brahms’s works, it is also present in works from many different periods (Bach’s, Mozart’s or Wagner’s), which affirms that romanticism is a mode of expression, not just a style. And despite the fact that the ideological opponents of Brahms regarded him as a “classicist”, a mere continuator of Beethoven’s work (whom he admired, adored indeed), we should first consider that the romantic element is without doubt present in the work of Beethoven himself, but also that Brahms’s work is so “personal”, so unmistakably and readily identifiable and so fundamentally “new” that we should not confuse a “continuator” with a “successor”.
The works in this album:
Op. 116 (Seven Fantasies),
Op. 117 (Three Intermezzi),
Op. 118 (Six Pieces for Piano), were written in 1892-93 and show clearly Brahms’s “departure” from all neoclassicism and “surrender” in favour of pure romanticism. His structural wisdom -acquired from lifelong spiritual struggles- serves in these pieces the expression of a series of personal “confessions” and nostalgic monologues. Any effort to describe them here with the usual qualitative adjectives is unnecessary, since they are most straightforward and accessible to any sensitive listener.
Maria Efstratiadis, born in Athens, studied at the Athens Conserνatoire, from which she graduated with an award and special distinction. She continued her studies at the ‘Ήochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien” in Hannoνer, Germany, from which she also graduated with top marks and distinction. She holds diplomas in Harmony, Counterpoint and Fugue.
She has appeared in solo recitals and chamber music concerts in Greece, France, Germany and Hungary. She has recorded for Greek, German and Hungarian radio. She has made solo performances with the National Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Athens State Orchestra.
Her discography includes works of J.S. Bach, C. Ph. Ε. Bach, W.A. Mozart and Υ. Ioannidis. Her recordings with all sonatas for piano and two concertos (ΚV 271 and ΚV 453) for piano and orchestra of W. A. Mozart, in collaboration with the Athens Music Society Chamber Orchestra (conductor: Yannis Ioannidis), received an award in December 2010 from the Union of Greek Theatre and Music Critics.
Maria Efstratiadis is a professor of piano and chamber music at the Athens Conservatoire.