Saturday, November 16th, 2002, 8:00pm
of the Holy Trinity
10 Trinity Square, Toronto
(behind the Eaton Centre)
Admission: $15 (adults), $10
(students and seniors); children under 12 admitted free
Tickets available in advance from
Ensemble members, or at the door
Joyce Lai, violin
Laura Jones, cello
Stephen Fox, clarinet
Ellen Meyer, piano
Linda Morana, flute
Rebecca Sajo, clarinet
Anthony Pezzetti, bassoon
Keith Bohlender, horn
Ian Clarke, viola
Lisa Haddock, bass
Sonata No. 1 in G Major Op.
78 for violin and piano
ma non troppo
Trio in A Minor Op.
114 for clarinet, cello and piano
Serenade No. 1 in D Major
Op. 11 (reconstruction of original nonet version)
Allegro non troppo
I & II
Aside from being the kind of excruciating pun that we
seem powerless to resist, the title of this concert celebrates our practice
in the last couple of seasons of celebrating the music of Johannes Brahms
and his contemporaries in our November concert. This is not necessarily
the last night that this will happen, but the music we are presenting may
well be the last word in Brahms’ brand of Romanticism. This programme
presents two of the mature Brahms’ best-loved works along with a youthful
masterpiece very rarely heard in its original form.
The first of Brahms’ three sonatas for violin and piano
(at least, the first to survive his ruthless self criticism), the Sonata
in G major Op. 78, was born out of tragedy and written in pastoral
tranquillity, contradictory influences producing “…a composition full of
restrained sweetness, and that longing inwardness which - as so often with
Brahms - seems to laugh beneath the tears” (Karl Geiringer). The
tragedy was the death from tuberculosis of Clara Schumann’s son Felix,
a gifted poet, following the earlier death of her daughter Julie - with
whom Brahms had been infatuated - and the commitment to a mental institution
of another son, Ludwig. At that time Brahms had presented Clara with
the Regenlieder, two melancholy songs from his collection Op. 59.
The tranquillity was the summer resort of Pörtschach, a favourite
retreat of Brahms, where, he said, “melodies flew thick” and whose sunny
serenity contributed to the creation of several major compositions.
There in 1879 Brahms wrote the Sonata, using thematic
material from the Regenlieder; hence the subtitle Regen or
often attached to the Sonata, and originating with Clara Schumann.
The three movements of the Sonata are integrated formally and emotionally
to a degree unusual for Brahms; in using song material to achieve this,
he followed and surpassed the example of Schubert in his
This, along with the deep personal associations of the work and the juxtaposition
of lyrical sweetness with emotional urgency, underlain with rhythmic complexity
and impetus, mark it out as unique in a catalogue of remarkable compositions.
In 1891, at the age of 58, the still-vigorous Brahms had
grown weary of the pressure to produce new music and had announced his
intention to retire. It is an oft-told story that meeting and hearing
a performance by Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907), principal clarinettist
with the orchestra of the Duke of Meiningen, inspired Brahms to a new burst
of creative activity, leading to the Trio Op. 114, the Quintet Op. 115
and the later (in 1894) the Sonatas Op. 120, his penultimate compositions.
While his retirement would undoubtedly not have lasted in any case, it
is nonetheless quite certain that without this stimulus, even if Brahms
had composed such significant chamber music at that point in his career,
he would never have considered using the clarinet as the central instrument.
Except possibly for Joseph Joachim, no instrumentalist had as great an
impact on Brahms as Mühlfeld, to whom he gave such nicknames as "meine
Primadonna", "fräulein Klarinette" and "the nightingale
of the orchestra". It has been said that "Perhaps the clarinet pieces
are the only true love songs to an instrument Brahms ever wrote" (Jan Swafford).
The Trio in A minor Op. 114
displays a variety of moods and emotions that could hardly be wider (more
so than, for example, its cousin the Clarinet Quintet). The first
movement - whose opening theme is said to have been chosen by Brahms for
his unwritten Fifth Symphony - sobs with bleak melancholy; the adagio second
movement glows with loving warmth; the third, a surpassingly graceful Viennese
waltz with a yodeling Ländler middle section, brings to mind
Brahms’ close friend and summertime neighbour Johann Strauss Jr.; and the
finale, alternating between fiery passion and sardonic wit, exemplifies
Brahms’ fondness for “Gypsy” and quasi-Hungarian musical style.
(Following our principle of presenting familiar music
with an original slant, in this performance a boxwood Baermann system clarinet
- as is appropriate with late 19th century German repertoire - is used,
lending extra subtlety of tone and articulation. For more information,
scholarly stuff, or here
for a pictorial description.)
(On Tuesday November 26th, as our period instrument alter
ego Ossia, we will present a concert
at Wilfrid Laurier University as part of their Music at Noon series, in
which we perform the Trio Op. 114, along with the Trio Op. 11 by Beethoven.
We will be using instruments - reproduction historical clarinets, a cello
with gut strings and appropriate bows, a Classical fortepiano and an original
ca. 1848 piano by Streicher - of the types that would have been heard when
the music was first performed. At least in the case of the Brahms,
this is undoubtedly the first time in Canada that this has been done.)
While in his early twenties, Brahms spent parts of the
winters of 1857-60 at the little royal court of Detmold, as choir director,
pianist and piano teacher. There also he got his first addictive
taste for the conducting podium, and spent much time studying orchestral
and choral music back to Bach and beyond. The Serenade in D
major Op. 11 was composed during this time, over several seasons
and in as many as four different guises. Apparently it started life
as a three or four movement work for wind and string octet; the first full
version, with six movements, saw light in 1858. The scoring was now
for nine instruments, one of each Classical orchestral instrument except
with the substitution of a second clarinet for the oboe (Brahms evidently
opting for cornstarch in preference to chili peppers in such a light recipe).
Inspired by the character of the music and the urging of Joseph Joachim
and Karl Bargheer, Brahms' violinist colleague in Detmold, the following
year Brahms expanded the instrumentation to a small orchestra (likely with
the same winds but multiple strings); finally in 1860 came the scoring
for full orchestra, the form in which the work is usually performed.
Brahms toyed with the idea of transforming it into his first symphony,
but desisted - being perhaps a little shellshocked by the rocky reception
in 1859 of his first piano concerto - and also with billing it as a “Symphony-Serenade”,
but the original title won out.
Reports vary as to whether Brahms remained fond of the
nonet version of the Serenade and the manuscript score and parts simply
disappeared, or whether he deliberately destroyed them. Either way,
the chamber version was never published; consequently, it is only accessible
in reconstructions, of which various renditions - varying in detail but
not in essence - have been made over the past fifteen years or so.
That printed parts are as yet only available on rental has seriously hampered
the adoption of the Serenade into the mainstream chamber repertoire.
The godparents of the Serenade are the symphonies of Haydn,
the wind serenades of Mozart, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and Septet, and
other works of the Classical era. Haydn’s symphonies have been dubbed
“heroic pastoral”, a description that could have been coined for the Serenade
in D. The spirit is bucolic, jovial and predominantly dancelike,
the texture relatively light and uncomplicated (bearing in mind that this
is Brahms, after all). The mature orchestral voice of Brahms is present
on occasion; certain material sounds understandably like Beethoven; and
some passages could have been written by Dvorak, Mendelssohn or Schubert.
The piece is of healthy symphonic proportions, but we don’t notice the
passage of time, such is the engaging and natural quality of the music.