Tag Archives: Johannes Brahms

Appeal, imitation and inspiration

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

On November 7, Benjamin Grosvenor plays Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Berg and Ravel.

Appeal, imitation and inspiration


“Teeming with dissonances” is how Brahms described the first Intermezzo in Opus 119.  In a letter from May 1893 to Clara Schumann, Brahms wondered if the piece would please her palate. He wished “they would be less correct, but more appetizing and agreeable to your taste”.  Clara must have found it appealing because she wrote back, that the piece was “grey, pearl-veiled and very precious”


Brahms’ appeal is timeless and not just for lovers of classical music.

While doing research for this post I came across a 2000 blog post about an article titled “Santana really should acknowledge Brahms”.  The writer points out the similarities between “Love of My Life,” played by Santana featuring Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford, from Santana’s 1999 album, Supernatural, and the third movement (III. Poco allegretto) from Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90.  Here is a link to the article.  Scroll down to hear audio clips of the two pieces.  What do you think?  I tend to agree with the writer. It seems audibly obvious. And both are lovely. I wonder if Santana ever did acknowledge Brahms?


On a less lovely note, the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K.333 was performed by Frank Zappa’s back up band, the Mothers of Invention at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. The band members did what was described as a “grotesque parody of the art of ballet dancing” as part of the “performance”.


Debussy’s L’après midi d’un faune was inspired by and is a musical depiction of a Mallarmé poem. In the poem, a faun sleeping on a sunny slope awakes from a dream and tries to realize the dream by pursuing the nymphs that he dreamt about.  After playing a soliloquy on his flute he realizes that he is unable to bring the dream to life, and he goes back to sleep.  It’s been said that Debussy found a way to break with orthodoxy when he “passed into the symbolist domain of Stéphane Mallarmé”. To Mallarmé, then we are forever grateful.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand which features a mermaid a monster and a corpse.  Ravel’s composition is in three movements.  Listen for the seductive whispers and cheerful laughter of Odine the mermaid, the slight swaying of the hanged man in the repeated B-flat and the frenzied appearances of the evil dwarf Scarbo, waiting to pounce and scare.  Gaspard de la Nuit was first published in 1842, one year after Bertrand’s death. The poem was reprinted in 1908 in the Mercure de France which was where Ravel may have first encountered it.


Leave a comment

Filed under Composers

Brett Dean

Australian Brett Dean is a contemporary composer. Born in Brisbane in 1961, he played violin from the age of eight and later moved to viola. He studied at the Queensland Conservatorium, graduating with the Conservatorium Medal for the highest achieving Student of the Year in 1982.

In 1985, he joined the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as a violist. He played with them until 1999.  He returned to Australia in 2000, deciding to work as a freelance artist. He started composing in 1988, originally for film and radio.

His list of compositions and awards has grown greatly over the years and includes pieces for ballet, opera, orchestra, chamber music, solo instruments, and choral. In 2016, Dean became the inaugural Artist in Residence with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a position which will last for three years and includes conducting, performing, and collaborating with creative programming. The world premier of his latest opera, Hamlet, took place this past summer at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

We will hear his piano piece Hommage à Brahms played by Benjamin Grosvenor at our November 7, 2017 concert. While this three movement piece can be played on its own, it was intended to be performed as interludes between the Four Pieces of Op. 119 by Johannes Brahms – Engelsflügel 1 placed between Brahms’ B-minor and E-minor Intermezzos, Hafenkneipenmusik between the E-minor and C-major Intermezzos, and Engelsflügel 2 between the C-major Intermezzo and the E-flat-major Rhapsody. It will be played this way by Grosvenor at our concert.

Leave a comment

Filed under Composers

The musical compositions of Schoenberg, Kelly Ann Murphy, Brahms and young locals. (Or, lovely stories as told by the Gryphon Trio)

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), was composed in 1899. Schoenberg composed it as a sextet and Eduard Steuermann later arranged it for a trio.

Verklärte Nacht was inspired by a poem of the same name written by German poet Richard Fedor Leopold Dehmel. The poem tells a lovely story of a night transfigured by a revelation of a woman who has found her true love around the time she discovers that she has become pregnant by another man. As the new lovers walk through the forest, the woman reveals her sadness and regret. The man’s response is beautiful and totally unexpected.

Below is an English translation of the poem. The composition matches the moods of the poem. Come hear the Gryphon Trio tonight, and see if you agree.

Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up.
A woman’s voice speaks:
“I am carrying a child, and not by you.
I am walking here with you in a state of sin.
I have offended grievously against myself.
I despaired of happiness,
and yet I still felt a grievous longing
for life’s fullness, for a mother’s joys
and duties; and so I sinned,
and so I yielded, shuddering, my sex
to the embrace of a stranger,
and even thought myself blessed.
Now life has taken its revenge,
and I have met you, met you.”
She walks on, stumbling.
She looks up; the moon keeps pace.
Her dark gaze drowns in light.
A man’s voice speaks:
“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.
That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”
He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.
Give me Phoenix Wing to Fly is a composition by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy, Commissioned by the Gryphon Quartet in 1997. Murphy has noted that the words of John Keats inspired the work.

But when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire

Those are lines from Keats’ sonnet “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again”. Keats wrote that sonnet in 1818, but those words are perhaps even more relevant today.

Murphy has noted,

“I’ve always been intrigued by the myth of the Phoenix – a bird that immolates in fire and then rises up again from its own ashes. It is such a powerful image, and one which is relevant to contemporary life, as we find ourselves balanced somewhat precariously on the brink of disaster. No matter how devastating any single event might be, you can still recover and begin again: a do-over. The success in the attempt and the belief that it is possible to move forward”.

Give Me Phoenix Wings To Fly: A shouted demand to the heavens, or a whispered prayer? Struggle, angst, chaos, exploration, tenuous grasps of the thing we most want that eludes us. Freedom caught but can it be held? Come, listen and decide. Tonight.

It’s only fitting that a theme so apt to contemporary society be followed by compositions of very young contemporary composers in the 2016 Gryphon Trio Young Composers Program from the Claude Watson program at Earl Haig Secondary School. This program was initiated by the Gryphon Trio in 1996, to provide mentorship to students as they create original works. What moods and emotions will you hear in these compositions? Come and find out.

Brahms’ Trio in B-sharp Major brings the evening to a close. It develops through four movements. The work opens with a pensive but sweet piano solo, followed by an engaging cello solo. The second movement starts with a whispered skip followed by increased exuberance. Then comes the Adagio third movement. Mysterious, serene and meditative. The final movement approaches symphonic proportions. The scope and sound of this work is enormous. Warm, sentimental, lyrical, rich and intense.

All in all, an evening not to be missed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers

Belcea Quartet

The Belcea Quartet comes to our stage on October 23, 2014. Celebrating 20 years, this quartet has a background in traditional and contemporary repertoire. Corina Belcea (violin), Axel Schacher (violin), Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola), Antoine Lederlin (cello) form the quartet. They are the Quartet in Residence at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, England and share a residence with the Artemis at the Vienna Konzerthaus.

In addition to recording and performing, the quartet give back to the classical music community with the Belcea Quartet Trust. Created by the artists, this trust offers support to young string quartets with coaching sessions and commissions new works for performance by the quartet.

We look forward to hearing them on our stage on October 23, 2014 with some Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert! To read more about the quartet, visit their website at http://belceaquartet.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers

Brahms – a final thought

Brahms lived a good and relatively long life. He lived to be 63 years old and spent pretty much his entire life working in a vocation he loved. It is said that in his old age he was a bit surly with adults but that his good-natured side was always seen when talking with children. It sounds like he was a big softy at heart. He loved nature and walking in the parks. He travelled for business and pleasure. He made strong and lasting friendships. His works sold well, he was financially savvy and was well off for the later half of his life. It sounds like a pretty good artist’s life!

With that artistic temperament also comes a down side. At one point he had decided to give up composing but that wasn’t to be (thankfully!) and he continued to compose until close to the end of his life. He did destroy a number of his early works though. Brahms was a bit of a perfectionist it seems. Things that he felt weren’t good enough he destroyed completely. Though he composed many great pieces in his later years, it makes you wonder what other gems we would have had from him had he not lived long enough to look back and decide that his early work needed to be purged.

Leave a comment

Filed under Composers

Brahms and friendship

I do love the music of Brahms. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing his Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 performed by the Orion String Quartet with Peter Serkin, piano. And it was lovely to hear it live! I’m looking forward to hearing a couple more Brahms pieces during our upcoming season – Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1 played by the Belcea Quartet in October and then Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 played by Simon Trpčeski in November.

Brahms started to tour in his early twenties and that is when he met many influential musicians and composers including Joseph Joachim, Franz Liszt, and the Schumanns. Robert and Clara Schumann had a life long influence on Johannes. Robert Schumann’s praise of the young Brahms helped bring him to the notice of the general public. They both encouraged him in his work. Brahms and the Schumann’s developed a strong and lasting friendship. When Robert was confined to a sanatorium, Johannes returned and moved into an upper apartment in the Schumann home to help out. He was allowed to visit Robert at the sanatorium (whereas Clara was not until just before his death) so he could keep them both apprised of what was happening. His friendship with Clara continued for many years after Robert’s death. There are many accounts of Brahms begin in love with Clara and her not returning his feelings but I’m not sure how important that is. It is obvious they had a strong friendship and respect for each other and that they supported and inspired artist creations as good friends should.


Filed under Composers

Brahms’ parents

Johannes Brahms is a well known name in classical music. Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833 and his family background had a big influence in his life. Let’s take a brief look at his parents.

His father, Johann Jakob, was born into a family of carpenters, wheelwrights, and tradesmen. His father ran a general store in Heide. Johann Jakob did not follow in his father’s footsteps. He became a musician instead. His was an apprentice for 3 years with Theodor Muller and when finished, at the age of 19, he left for Hamburg to look for work as a musician.  He played several instruments with most of his work coming from his skill on the horn and the double bass. Much of his work was in dance halls initially. He did become a bugler with the town guard and played his double bass in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamburg later in his life.

At the age of 24, Johann Jakob married Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, as seamstress 17 years older than him. She had been born in Hamburg. She had started work sewing at the age of 13 and eventually worked as a general servant. The two met when Johann Jakob rented a room from her parents. They married in 1830 with not much to their name. But they made do and worked hard. Their marriage lasted until 1864 when they separated. Christiane died in 1865 and Johann Jakob remarried in 1866, with the blessing of his famous son.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at his childhood!

Leave a comment

Filed under Composers, Fathers of Composers, Mothers of Composers