Brahms Handel Variations

Posted by: fnork

Brahms Handel Variations - 04/30/13 06:09 PM

I do have a somewhat specific question by starting this thread, but first of all - thoughts on this piece? To me it gives such a multi-layered picture of Brahms the composer somehow, and just as Beethoven managed to create a large-scale set of variations based on a (deliberately?) pretty lousy theme by Diabelli, Brahms wrote a half-hour long tour-de-force based on a straight-forward theme with nothing of notable harmonic interest. The concluding fugue summarizes the piece perfectly and the ending with the bells ringing out in both hands must be one of my favorite passages by Brahms. Thoughts?

Now to a more specific question - what comes to mind as suitable repertoire to pair this piece with in a recital? I'm thinking that if one were to finish a recital with this piece, something around 5-15 minutes of music before it would be desireable. My first thought was to have something else baroque thrown in, like a selection of Scarlatti sonatas. Any ideas?
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 04/30/13 06:18 PM

How about doing what AndrĂ¡s Schiff did some years ago - starting with Handel's Keyboard Suite No.1 in B flat, HWV434, from which Brahms got the theme. Handel's music itself is of course for harpsichord, but works very well on piano (I believe Richter and Gavrilov jointly performed and recorded all of them some years ago).

Schiff performed them one after the other without a break, with the Handel serving as the appropriate prelude to the Brahms.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 04/30/13 06:44 PM

Originally Posted By: fnork
Now to a more specific question - what comes to mind as suitable repertoire to pair this piece with in a recital? I'm thinking that if one were to finish a recital with this piece, something around 5-15 minutes of music before it would be desirable. My first thought was to have something else baroque thrown in, like a selection of Scarlatti sonatas. Any ideas?
Are you talking about the second half of a recital or an entire recital? (The total time seems too short if you mean an entire recital).

The only time I have ever heard Scarlatti Sonatas played anywhere except the beginning of a recital was when I heard Maria Tipo play 12 Scarlatti Sonatas as the second half of recital. For me, playing a few Scarlatti Sonatas before the Brahms doesn't make much sense if this is the second half of the recital.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 04/30/13 10:59 PM

Well, you're forcing me to post this.... ha

Actual program of mine (2002):

Scarlatti -- Sonata in E major, L. 21 (K. 162)
Chopin -- Mazurka in Bb minor, 24/4, Scherzo #2
Seymour Bernstein -- Two pieces from "New Pictures at an Exhibition" (Guernica, Epilogue)
Sousa-Horowitz -- Stars & Stripes
--------
Brahms-Handel Variations


I agree with Plover that the program seems short if the 10-15 minutes of "pairing" you're talking about is for the whole program.
Posted by: fnork

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 03:03 AM

Thanks for the comments. What I meant was that Handel variations alone are a bit short to stand on their own in, say, a second half of a concert - depends of course on the circumstances. But if we think that one half should roughly last somewhere between 35-45 min, I was thinking that some more music would be needed. I dont know if I like the idea of having Handels suite next to Brahms - too much of the same stuff perhaps, and too much in B flat wink

I heard Sokolov recently following the Handel variations with op 117 and it was such a contrast - shows a completely different side of Brahms.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 03:52 AM

Originally Posted By: fnork
Thanks for the comments. What I meant was that Handel variations alone are a bit short to stand on their own in, say, a second half of a concert....

Absolutely not at all!

I didn't invent the idea of having it be the whole second half. smile
(It's not unusual.)

Quote:
....if we think that one half should roughly last somewhere between 35-45 min....

Aha!
Your math is off. grin

Second halfs commonly are shorter than first halfs.
(BTW, purposely didn't say "halves.") smile

IMO 45 minutes would usually be too long (arguably terribly long) ha for a second half.

The Brahms-Handel is just about half an hour, usually a little under. That's a good length for a second "half."
Posted by: fnork

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 04:01 AM

Heh, well, in that case Sokolov's math is off too, and you better stay away from his concerts wink op 24 + 117 in a second half was wonderful, to my mind.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 04:06 AM

Originally Posted By: fnork
Heh, well, in that case Sokolov's math is off too, and you better stay away from his concerts wink op 24 + 117 in a second half was wonderful, to my mind.

Not that I imagine I'm saying anything you don't know ha but.....Sokolov isn't a usual pianist, and what he does isn't necessarily a model. People like him can do basically whatever they want. That kind of second half is longer than most, and IMO for most pianists (and audiences), it wouldn't be a good idea. You certainly don't have to make a second half that long -- and I would absolutely avoid it.

Ruth Slenczynska's book (Music at Your Fingertips) includes a long section on program construction. That's what my main model has been. She suggests "about 70 minutes of music" for the whole program, and gives a number of "sample programs," which usually lay out as around 40 + 30.
Posted by: fnork

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 04:51 AM

Sokolov certainly does what he wants...first half of the concert was about 30 min of Rameau followed by the Mozart A minor sonata - so, over 50 min of music followed by a 2nd half with about as much if encores (6 or so!) are counted...

Anyways, points taken. Still, the situation for me is more like having to decide a program for a final round of a competition, and in such situations one should really use the minutes one has, rather than playing 10 min less than what is required wink But I'll figure something out. Thanks for the Slenczynska suggestion, would be curious to check her "sample programs"!
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 05:21 AM

Well, how about the Berg Sonata to precede the Brahms?

Short and sweet, and one can then follow how Brahms's harmonic language developed on from Berg's (or is that the other way round? grin)
Posted by: wr

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 06:33 AM

Originally Posted By: fnork
Thanks for the comments. What I meant was that Handel variations alone are a bit short to stand on their own in, say, a second half of a concert - depends of course on the circumstances. But if we think that one half should roughly last somewhere between 35-45 min, I was thinking that some more music would be needed. I dont know if I like the idea of having Handels suite next to Brahms - too much of the same stuff perhaps, and too much in B flat wink

I heard Sokolov recently following the Handel variations with op 117 and it was such a contrast - shows a completely different side of Brahms.


A couple of years ago at Wigmore, Ohlsson preceded the variations with the Handel suite no. 2 in F. It seemed to work okay, but I not a big fan of the Handel suites on piano, so it didn't really turn me on.

How about the Brahms waltzes, as a sort of appetizer? Or, just for fun, what about one of those early Beethoven variation sets that hardly ever get played? Some of them are quite charming, and they aren't very lengthy. The contrast between one of those and the Brahms might make for an interesting pairing.
Posted by: DameMyra

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 07:18 AM

Originally Posted By: bennevis
Well, how about the Berg Sonata to precede the Brahms?

Short and sweet, and one can then follow how Brahms's harmonic language developed on from Berg's (or is that the other way round? grin)


I really like that suggestion. I heard Hamelin open a program with the Berg followed by the Liszt Sonata.
Posted by: Thracozaag

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 07:38 AM

Originally Posted By: fnork

Now to a more specific question - what comes to mind as suitable repertoire to pair this piece with in a recital?


Reger-Telemann grin
Posted by: fnork

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 07:46 AM

Originally Posted By: Thracozaag
Originally Posted By: fnork

Now to a more specific question - what comes to mind as suitable repertoire to pair this piece with in a recital?


Reger-Telemann grin

Lol, I knew you'd say that! It's quite a piece too, but seems a bit overlong and repetitive if you actually do all the repeats. Reger-Bach is to my mind more comprehensive as a whole - masterpiece.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 08:51 AM

More suggestions: Michael Tippett's Piano Sonata No.1 (with its Scottish folk-song influence) or Thomas Ades's Darknesse Visible, or a Carl Vine Sonata (or Bagatelles, or Anne Landa Preludes).

I like the idea of pairing the Brahms-Handel with a piece in a more contemporary idiom, because Brahms also took his tune from an earlier era. But for something more contemporaneous to it, how about Schumann's Papillons? Or even his Arabeske - short and easy, just what you need for the travail of what is to follow.....
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 09:15 AM

Any piece that is not too overtly virtuosic or highly dramatic would work IMO. The most obvious would be some shorter Brahms pieces from Op. 116-119.

For me a piece like the Vine Sonata would not work at all. Nor do I see any logic in pairing the Brahms with a more contemporary work for the reason given in the previous post. This does not mean a contemporary piece might not be suitable.
Posted by: Kreisler

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 10:08 AM

I think the variations work fine on their own. I've actually been thinking about this as a recital program possibility for next year:

Albeniz - Iberia, bk. 1
Vine - Anne Landa Preludes

*intermission*

Brahms - Handel Variations
Posted by: beet31425

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 01:10 PM

I have mixed feelings about the Brahms Handel variations. From a distance, I love the piece: I've heard it performed a couple times, and the effect is absolutely astonishing. But when I viewed it "up close", i.e. got the score and started to play through them, I was expecting to find all kinds of subtle harmonic gems that weren't apparent from a casual listening. The kind of little twists that you find all the time in Rachmaninoff, in the Diabelli Variations, in the Goldberg Variations when you examine them in detail. But here, generally speaking, they weren't there. Unexpected depths were not revealed.

Still a good piece.

-J
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 01:37 PM

Originally Posted By: beet31425
....I was expecting to find all kinds of subtle harmonic gems that weren't apparent from a casual listening. The kind of little twists that you find all the time in Rachmaninoff, in the Diabelli Variations, in the Goldberg Variations when you examine them in detail. But here, generally speaking, they weren't there. Unexpected depths were not revealed.....

It's a different kind of piece. To me it's like you're imposing an expectation or standard that doesn't belong. I think the relative absence of what you mentioned is part of the greatness, and part of the "drive" (which we might say is the piece's main thing): the persistent continuity, plus the great variety of expression and the 'story' that gets told within the confines of what you noted.

AND ANYWAY: Why your emphasis on twists 'not apparent from a casual listening'? I really don't get that. The piece does have its share of little harmonic "twists" which are very apparent. This is a more 'direct' piece than those others, and it's exactly part of its point and greatness.
Posted by: Thracozaag

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 01:41 PM

Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I think the variations work fine on their own. I've actually been thinking about this as a recital program possibility for next year:

Albeniz - Iberia, bk. 1
Vine - Anne Landa Preludes

*intermission*

Brahms - Handel Variations


Very cool program
Posted by: beet31425

Re: Brahms Handel Variations - 05/01/13 03:09 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: beet31425
....I was expecting to find all kinds of subtle harmonic gems that weren't apparent from a casual listening. The kind of little twists that you find all the time in Rachmaninoff, in the Diabelli Variations, in the Goldberg Variations when you examine them in detail. But here, generally speaking, they weren't there. Unexpected depths were not revealed.....

It's a different kind of piece. To me it's like you're imposing an expectation or standard that doesn't belong. I think the relative absence of what you mentioned is part of the greatness, and part of the "drive" (which we might say is the piece's main thing): the persistent continuity, the great variety of expression, and the 'story' that gets told within the confines of what you noted.

AND ANYWAY: Why your emphasis on twists 'not apparent from a casual listening'? I really don't get that. The piece does have its share of little harmonic "twists" which are very apparent. This is a more 'direct' piece than those others, and it's exactly part of its point and greatness.


You're absolutely right. I may have been coming into these variations with preconceived notions, based on my experiences with the Diabellis and the Goldbergs. The fault, and the readjustment, are on my end, not Brahms's.

-J