The Circle of Brahms
John Kersey, piano
Audio sample: Grimm: Abendlandschaft, op 2 no 1
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Total time: 71 mins 51 secs
Woldemar Bargiel (1828-97): Piano Sonata in C major, op 34
1. Allegro moderato, ma con passione (10’30”) 2. Andante, un poco con moto (8’08”) 3. Adagio maestoso – Allegro molto – Prestissimo – Presto possibile (7’27”)
Ludvig Norman (1831-85): Two Character Pieces, op 1
4. no. 1: Allegro commodo (5’29”) 5. no. 2: Der Sonntagsritt (The Sunday Ride) (7’11”)
6. Reality (3’17”)
Albert Dietrich (1829-1908): from Four Piano Pieces, op 2
7. no. 2: Canon (4’25”) 8. no. 4: Sehr ruhig, ausdrucksvoll (5’33”)
Julius Otto Grimm (1827-1903): from Abendbilder (Evening Scenes), op 2
9. no. 1: Abendlandschaft (Evening landscape) (2’13”) 10. no. 4: Elfenchor (Elves’ Chorus) (1’20”)
Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916)
Six Preludes, op 2
11. no. 1: Un poco lento e sostenuto (2’18”) 12. no. 2: Andante espressivo (2’29”) 13. no. 3: Allegro energico (2’11”) 14. no. 4: Andantino (3’47”) 15. no. 5: Allegretto vivace e leggiero (2’06”) 16. no. 6: Allegro molto agitato (2’20”)
We are grateful to Dr. Klaus Tischendorf for supplying copies of scores for use in this recording.
Woldemar Bargiel was not a prolific composer, but his works deserve greater attention than the almost complete neglect they fell into in the years immediately following his death. Similarly, if he is known at all these days, it is as the half-brother of Clara Schumann (as a result of her mother’s second marriage to music teacher Adolf Bargiel), with the implication that not only was the success of his career due to this connexion (which was undoubtedly the case) but also that such reputation that he enjoyed was merely the result of this nepotism (which was certainly not so).
Bargiel studied under Moscheles, Hauptmann, Rietz and Gade at the Leipzig Conservatoire (being noted among the younger generation in Schumann’s Neue Bahnen in 1853) and from 1859 took up a teaching position as a theorist at the conservatoire in Köln. 1866 saw him move to Rotterdam where he concentrated on conducting and musical direction, and 1874 (at the invitation of Joachim) back to Berlin (where he had taught privately throughout the 1850s) as professor of composition at the Royal Hochschule. He attained the peak of professional recognition as a senator of the Akademie der Künste, teaching up until his death at the age of sixty-nine.
Bargiel’s well-crafted and distinctive music enjoyed wide popularity during his lifetime. As well as piano music, he wrote a number of chamber works, songs, and orchestral pieces. His Piano Sonata is a large-scale, heroic work cast firmly in the Brahmsian mould but possessing a confidence and distinction that Brahms himself might well have admired. It begins with a suitably “symphonic” movement introduced by a broad theme that is contrasted with more agitated triplet material and developed with some distinct Beethovenian touches (note the chordal near-quote from the “Eroica”) The central slow movement, which acts to some extent as relief from this intense drama, was a favourite of Bargiel’s to the extent that he orchestrated it as the Intermezzo, op 46. His tarantella finale ends with a brilliant coda calling to mind the example of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata as well as Brahms’ own F minor example in that genre.
The Swede Ludvig Norman studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire between 1848 and 1852 (and was mentioned by Schumann as a rising star of the younger generation in his 1853 Neue Bahnen). He returned to Sweden to teach (appointed to the Stockholm Conservatoire in 1858) and then in 1861 to become Hofkapellmeister of the Royal Theatre there. He was among the most important Swedish musicians of his time and represents the continuation of the school of Schumann, Gade and Mendelssohn with strong elements of Brahmsian breadth and character (particularly apparent in his short piece “Reality”). His wife was the violinist Wilma Neruda, who left him after only a few years, and after his death married the conductor Sir Charles Hallé.
Albert Dietrich was not merely influenced by Brahms, but was one of the composer’s closest friends. Like Norman, he was of the school of Schumann, studying with the composer from 1851 and then, in 1853, meeting Brahms and collaborating on the “F-A-E Sonata” for Joachim. Thereafter, Dietrich was music director at the court of Oldenburg (1861-90) and did much to promote Brahms’ music. His mastery of counterpoint is well-illustrated by the Canon from his op 2 set.
The Latvian Julius Otto Grimm, like Dietrich, belonged to Brahms’ inner circle, having first met the younger composer in 1853. He spent some of 1854 in Hanover, and while visiting Brahms and Joachim in February met Robert and Clara Schumann. Only a few weeks later Robert Schumann threw himself into the Rhine.
In 1855, Grimm was appointed as professor and chorus conductor in Göttingen, and in 1860 became conductor of the Musikverein in Münster. His compositions were highly regarded during his lifetime and he was the recipient of many honours. His works include a symphony and a number of chamber and piano works, of which his early Abendbilder show a confident grasp of the smaller forms.
Friedrich Gernsheim met Brahms later in his career, in 1868, and from that point onwards showed a notable Brahmsian influence in his works, which include four symphonies, concertos and much chamber music. However, he was not without an individual voice, as his early virtuosic Preludes show, and had clearly learned much of piano technique from his teacher Moscheles.