The lesser-known works of the great German composer
As presenter Tom Service explained, ‘[The] week’s performances and broadcasts will, I hope, reveal another Brahms: a visionary pusher of expressive boundaries in his chamber music, a symbolist dreamer in his late piano music and choral works, a multi-dimensional virtuoso of time and space in his orchestral works.'
While many of you may be familiar with Brahms’s orchestral, chamber and choral works, there are many pieces that simply aren’t performed anymore or versions of masterpieces that are rarely heard today.
We’ve gathered together some videos that highlight the lesser-known side to this great Romantic German composer.
1. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor for organ
Brahms didn’t write much organ music – three preludes and fugues, a stand-alone fugue, and a collection of chorale preludes. But what he did write is of tantalizingly superb quality. The composer studied the organ early on, but seems to have written sporadically for the instrument throughout his life. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor, played here by Philippe Ourselin on the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the church of Notre Dame de Champs in Paris shows Brahms at his most Bach-influenced: this is Brahms the contrapuntalist.
In the autumn of 2011, Christopher Hogwood came across a remarkable discovery in the library of Princeton University. Brahms had been taking part in a piano and violin recital in Göttingen in 1853, and left behind a short piano piece, ‘Albumblatt’ in his host’s guestbook as a thank you. And it was inside this guestbook that Hogwood found the work. Here, in a video made by Radio 3’s Music Matters, Tom Service talks to Hogwood and pianist András Schiff, who we hear play an extract from the ‘new’ work.
3. Serenade No. 1
Brahms’s wrote two serenades – both were early attempts by the composer to write symphonic music. Serenade No. 1, which you can hear here, was composed when he was 24, around the same time as the First Piano Concerto. The six-movement work is scored for string and wind nonet, and while cast in the late Classical mould, bears many hallmarks of Brahms’s later symphonic output.
The Triumphlied was written by Brahms the celebrate the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War and sets passages from the Book of Revelation. Brahms dedicated his splendid work for baritone solo, choir and orchestra to Emperor Wilhelm I. Its strong patriotic tone won it few friends after the ravages of World War One, and it has since stayed pretty much unperformed. But it’s a powerful work, full of harmonic and melodic interest.
5. Ein Deutsches Requiem
No, we’re no suggesting that the Requiem is an unknown piece of Brahms, but it’s not often that one gets to hear the version with piano accompaniment. Brahms arranged the Requiem’s orchestral parts for piano duet for the first British performance of the Requiem, which took place in 1871 in London. Here’s the Pasadena Master Chorale performing the Requiem’s first movement with piano in 2011.
Brahms will appear on the cover of the October issue of BBC Music Magazine