Musical Difficulty of Brahms D minor sonata
My teacher told me that the Brahms D minor sonata is extremely difficult musically, given the complex emotions within the piece. In fact, he said much life experience is needed in order to fully capture the musical essence of the piece. To what extent do you all agree?
I'm sure he's right, but you could say the same about all great music and much music that isn't so great. I could work for ever on a simple tune like Tchaikovsky's Barcarolle and still not feel I've fully captured its musical essence
Play what the notes make you feel, your interpretation will change with time anyway. You'll know when it truly sounds right and it doesn't matter if that's not what someone else wants. We already have so many similar versions of the same pieces because of convention, could we try something different for a change?
I mean, there's probably a little bit of exaggeration here in terms of "life experience" and "complex emotion", but for sure all 3 of the Brahms Sonatas are pretty high on the list of difficulty under the right hand. The left hand in this sense is not a soaring technical challenge provided you can easily hit the shifts and can produce different vibrato. They are pieces you probably shouldn't study until the technical aspects are firmly under your belt.
Its very prosaic and one can not help but wonder if the origin of such ideas - e.g. life experience - are more musical mysticism rather than musical reality. I suspect that 'life experience' can actually be translated mostly into 'emotional and physical pain'.
I haven't done any sort of systematic study, this is just gut feeling, but I think one of the things that changes the most as one ages and (hopefully) grows more musically mature is the sense of timing. In general, it seems like younger players tend to not like to linger on notes or phrases in the same way that older players do and I think Brahms sonatas need that sense of expansiveness.
I think there is something to what Irene says. My own feeling is that "musical expression" basically boils down to developing a largely technical tool-box and learning to apply it according to what is expected for a given period or specific piece. These tools are rubato, stentato, vibrato, dynamics, all sorts of things that can be combined in myriad ways. Musical expression is not "mere technique" but I don't think "life experience" matters explicitly. What matters is playing and listening experience so that one can better develop range, subtlety, and perhaps even individuality in the way these "tools" are employed. As with all things, some people just pick up on it more quickly than others.
It just isn't merely age or tragedy, but a conglomerate including technique ("toolbox") and a keen musical sense ( which is as much a talent as something that all could theoretically develop.) One can suffer a lot and have tons of life experiences and still play with limited musicality, but on the other hand, many people with a "limitless toolbox" still manage to play rather insipidly at times-though to be fair, this is not only limited to young players.
In order to get "life experience" for interpretation of a composer's work, listen to other pieces by the composer. Pick any of his 4 Symphonies, string quartets, etc. I think one of the greatest deficiencies in orchestral auditions, etc. is the lack of knowledge about the style necessary for Brahm's compositions.
I agree with Bruce. I think one of the reasons that "maturity" seems to play a significant part in the seeming quality of musical interpretation is the depth of useful
Here is Pamela Frank teaching Brahms Sonata no. 1 in a masterclass at the Menuhin competition 2018; the young violinst is Christina Nam, 15.
I agree with pretty much all the above. However, in another place we've recently been discussing "musicality" and come to the conclusion that it's to a large degree innate and if you don't have it you probably won't acquire it with age. And I agree with that too. And I also agree that lots of highly musical musicians, even some unquestionably great ones like Benjamin Britten, never "get" Brahms.
I have a simpler answer than others here who seem to imply that you need to learn the composer's oeuvre before you can perform this piece - that it's an 'adult' piece, which isn't very exciting or immediately appealing, and requires a greater amount of sustained concentration and listening to appreciate, and as such is something of an acquired taste. So my answer is that, just as adults might claim to like beer for the taste, and eschew cream soda, the reverse applies to kids, and this is beer.
I remember a performance of Brahms's quartet no. 1 that was part of a chamber music recital which was given by players of a local community orchestra. Now choosing Brahms for such a venture is daring. The quartet was made up of the four voice leaders, the CM a professional, the other three amateurs. They did a very respectable job technically. Decent intonation, nice ensemble playing, dynamic nuance, it was all there. Yet I found it a terrible performance. It was as if they were gliding over the music and not engaging with the dense and dark character oft the work. The tempi were too fast in all "fast" movements, especially the third (Brahms gave the tempo as "allegretto molto moderato e comodo" and just in case somebody did not get the hint he noted it down in 4/8, not in 2/4; it has to count in eighths) but also the first and last. The music was gliding along on the surface ignoring all the depths that are there. I blame the concertmaser who was an extremely young woman and had obviously not spent much time with the score. And I longed for a rule that forbids people below 50 to play Brahms in public. I do agree with the violin teacher.
I think it is just as condescending to say people under the age of 50 should not perform Brahms in public as it is to say (as in Cotton's aged cheese thread) that his audience of old folks only pretends to appreciate classical music.
Around our house we joke about Brahms being the ultimate angsty teen music, with all the sturm und drang, drama emotion and beauty. The kids have (gasp) played the C minor trio in public, and in a master class even. Of course it's not like it will be with 20 years of perspective, but the music speaks deeply to them, and after a couple of years playing Haydn and Beethoven trios, especially with high-level coaching, why not? That said, they're not yet allowed to attempt the first trio :-).
I disagree with Brahms veing for "old people", as he wasn't "old" himself for all of his works. I frankly doubt He would agree humself. Nothing wrong with being old, tgough, and musical experience is alwats gelpfyl.
I performed the 1st 2 movements at the age of 18. At that time I'd already been captivated by the 4th Symphony (I think this sonata and the 4th Symphony have more in common with each other than with other works by Brahms - I still think Boult's interpretation is difficult to improve on), to the extent of improvisation and compostion in that style; and I think the two of us gave a fairly convincing performance of those movements (One mistake I remember making in the 1st movement was failing to realize I should phrase off after several 1st beats in the bar and clearly start a new phrase on the 2nd beat, the most flagrant instance being the 10th bar before the 1st double bar. I think I was right in making sure the hairpins sounded exacty as they were written. In the 2nd movement I later heard a master class student make sure that double stopped phrases actually sounded like they began on the 1st beat of the bar (to the extent of jumping up some 4 positions on the bar line), and I think she was right and I had been wrong.
John wrote: "In the 2nd movement I later heard a master class student make sure that double stopped phrases actually sounded like they began on the 1st beat of the bar (to the extent of jumping up some 4 positions on the bar line)"
I think I do. In measure 20 the student stays in first position rather than shifting to third on the third beat (as marked) and makes a big shift up to fifth position for the double stops of measure 21. With a little portamento that would certainly make for a climactic moment.
Jean and Steve, she jumped up 4 positions to make sure the entire bar was played on the same pair of stringss. I hadn't done so, and an implied accent fell on the 2nd beat.
Those bars always used to defeat me. In 21 I'd be inclined to slide from second to first position on the second beat, similarly in 53 slide from 5th to 4th. In 59 goodness knows what. The sonata scherzo is wonderful, but I wouldn't have thought funny! I probably haven't played the thing for 30 years and my juices are starting to flow again.
Of course scherzo literally means joke, so John is looking at it the way Brahms intended.
I don't wish to be contentious but I now see Brahms didn't actually call it "Scherzo", just "Un poco presto e con sentimento"! He did use the term in other chamber works such as the piano quartets and quintet
interesting but i still don't get it (sorry for no capitals, i have to type with one hand :-(
Two slides? The second one would have to be very quick to fit in the semidemiquaver (aka 32nd note) rhythmically.
I see no problem with that 32nd note, you are coming from a long note and tempo is slow.
You're right, it does work because the following double stop is unchanged. But I'd prefer to finger the preceding slide or in my hands that bar would sound like two howling wolves. Two bars later, similar thing.
thanks steve, about the "in my hands", i am sure you can make this sound good. i am in no position to give you tips, but anyway: shifting is done as much with the bow as with the left hand. you temporarily lift or lighten the bow and you do the same with the fingers while shifting.
Your teacher's right, and he/she is probably trying to guide you to music that will benefit your development the most.
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