Thursday, March 02, 2006

War of the Romantics, Part IV: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)




Brahms has been considered one of the greatest composers of all time for his achievements in symphonic, chamber, and choral music. However, he has also endured a great deal of criticism regarding his work. (Graffiti in 19th century concert halls would sometimes say "Exit in case of Brahms") He is accused of being too dissonant, as well as a copier of Beethoven. This is likely due to the roamntic harmonies and difficult rhythms that give Brahms his distinctive sound.

In many respects, Brahms is a more conservative composer than others. His works are heavily influenced by Beethoven, and he is often considered to be "less confident" in composition than Beethoven was. When a composition had modulated into a bizarre key, Beethoven would do what he felt like doing, and possibly jump abruptly to a completely different key. Brahms on the other hand was compelled by his perfectionist nature to modulate back to the tonic, afraid to deviate from the classical norm. You may see this as a negative, but in my opinion, Brahms often has more flow to his works than Beethoven, making them easier to listen to.

This trio also exibits Brahms' use of the natural horn (waldhorn), that was limited to a certain set of pitches and movement of the right hand within the bell of the instrument, instead of the valved horn, which could play an entire chromatic scale without awkward hand movements. Though valved horn was used in the time of Brahms by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Mahler, he still used the natural horn in all his works, thinking valved horns were a passing fad. This trio is the result of a stay in the mountains, the horn reflecting the majesty of the mountains and forests, as well as the hunt.

Enjoy, and please let me know what you think; this piece is often overshadowed by his other chamber masterpieces.

Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano in E-Flat, Op. 40

Myron Bloom- Horn, Michael Tree- Violin, Rudolf Serkin- Piano, Marlboro Music Festival, Sony Classical

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