Tag Archives: Classical music

Video of the Week #226: How to be a Classical Musician

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If only it were this easy.

Brahms

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Brahms

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, a musician. His father was his first music teacher, instructing him on violin and cello. He studied piano with Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel, who complained that the boy “could be such a good player, but he will not stop his never-ending composing.” At age 10, Brahms made his debut as a performer in a private concert. Brahms’s parents disapproved of his early efforts as a composer, feeling that he had better career prospects as a performer.

From 1845 to 1848 Brahms studied with Cossel’s teacher, the pianist and composer Eduard Marxsen. Marxsen had been a personal acquaintance of Beethoven and Schubert, and admired the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, and J. S. Bach. Marxsen taught Brahms the works of these composers and ensured that Brahms’ own compositions were grounded in their musical traditions.

In 1850 Brahms met with the Hungarian violinist Ede Reményi and became his accompanist. Reményi introduced Brahms to “gypsy-style” music such as the czardas, which was later to prove the foundation of his most lucrative and popular compositions, the two sets of Hungarian Dances (1869 and 1880).

Johannes Brahms, composer, Romantic, music

Brahms at age 20

In 1853 Brahms and Reményi went on a concert tour. In late May the two visited the violinist and composer Joseph Joachim at Hanover, who had earlier impressed Brahms with his rendition of Beethoven’s violin concerto. Brahms played some of his own solo piano pieces for Joachim, who recalled fifty years later, “Never in the course of my artist’s life have I been more completely overwhelmed.” Thus began a lifelong friendship.

Brahms visited Düsseldorf in October 1853, and, with a letter of introduction from Joachim, was welcomed by Robert Schumann and his wife Clara. Schumann, greatly impressed and delighted by the 20-year-old’s talent, wrote an article entitled “Neue Bahnen” (“New Paths”) published in the October 28 issue of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik citing Brahms as one who was “fated to give expression to the times in the highest and most ideal manner.” Schumann’s endorsement led to the first publication of Brahms’ works.

In February, 1854, Schumann attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. He was rescued, but due to extreme psychiatric impairment, he was committed to a sanatorium near Bonn (where he died of pneumonia in 1856). To be of help to the family (including Robert and Clara’s seven children), Brahms moved to Düsseldorf, where he supported the household and dealt with business matters on Clara’s behalf. The doctors at the sanatorium would not allow Clara to visit Robert until two days before his death (due to his unstable condition), but Brahms was able to visit him and acted as a go-between, carrying notes and messages back and forth. Brahms developed deep feelings for Clara, who to him represented an ideal of womanhood. In June, 1854, Brahms dedicated to Clara his Op. 9, the Variations on a Theme of Schumann. Clara continued to support Brahms’s career by performing his music in her recitals. Their intensely emotional, though platonic, relationship lasted until Clara’s death.

His large choral work A German Requiem is not a setting of the Catholic Mass for the dead. An agnostic and a humanist, Brahms instead selected his text from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible. An early version of the second movement was first composed in 1854, not long after Robert Schumann’s attempted suicide, and this was later used in his first piano concerto. The majority of the Requiem was composed after his mother’s death in 1865. The complete work successfully premiered in 1868 and went on to receive critical acclaim throughout Germany and elsewhere in Europe and Russia, essentially giving Brahms worldwide recognition.

Brahms’ life was marked by professional and personal drama. For example, the premiere of his First Piano Concerto in Hamburg on January 22, 1859, with the composer as soloist, flopped. Brahms wrote in a letter to Joachim that the performance was “a brilliant and decisive – failure…[I]t forces one to concentrate one’s thoughts and increases one’s courage…But the hissing was too much of a good thing…”  At a second performance, audience reaction was so hostile that Brahms had to be restrained from leaving the stage after the first movement.

In 1860, in the debate on the future of German music, Brahms attacked Liszt’s followers, the so-called “New German School” (although Brahms himself was sympathetic to the music of Richard Wagner, the School’s star). He objected to their rejection of traditional musical forms and to the “rank, miserable weeds growing from Liszt-like fantasias.” The Neue Zeitschrift für Musik ridiculed Brahms and his associates as backward-looking. Brahms henceforth avoided public musical controversy.

In 1859 Brahms asked Agathe von Siebold for her hand in marriage. The engagement was stormy and soon dissolved, but even after Brahms wrote to her of his love and longing for her. Though they never saw one another again, Brahms later confirmed to a friend that Agathe was his “last love.”

In January, 1863, Brahms met Richard Wagner, for whom he played his Handel Variations Op. 24, which he had completed the previous year. Although the meeting was cordial, in later years Wagner made critical, even insulting, comments about Brahms’ music. Brahms still maintained a keen interest in Wagner’s music.

In 1880, the University of Breslau offered Brahms an honorary doctorate in philosophy. Hoping to avoid public fanfare, Brahms responded with a letter of acknowledgement. However, conductor Bernard Scholz, who had nominated him for the degree, informed him that protocol required a grander gesture of gratitude. “Compose a fine symphony for us!” he wrote.

Brahms, a well-known joker, orchestrated a medley of student drinking songs he called the Academic Festival Overture, which, along with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, is played for graduation ceremonies to this day, as well as in concert.

The commendation of Brahms by Breslau as “the leader in the art of serious music in Germany today” led to a harsh comment from Wagner: “I know of some famous composers who in their concert masquerades don the disguise of a street-singer one day, the hallelujah periwig of Handel the next, the dress of a Jewish Czardas-fiddler another time, and then again the guise of a highly respectable symphony dressed up as Number Ten”.

Brahms held a deep reverence for Beethoven; in his home, a marble bust of Beethoven looked down on the spot where he composed. Brahms’s First Symphony bears a strong resemblance to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The main theme of the finale of the First Symphony is reminiscent of the main theme of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth, a resemblance Brahms acknowledged. In 1876, when the work was premiered in Vienna, it was hailed as “Beethoven’s Tenth”.

In the summer of 1896 Brahms was diagnosed as having jaundice, but later that year his diagnosis was changed to cancer of the liver. He passed away on April 3, 1897.

JohannesBrahmsJohannes Brahms, both a traditionalist and an innovator, is considered one of the greatest composers of the Romantic period. A confirmed perfectionist, Brahms destroyed many of his works and left others unpublished. He wrote for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, and voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. Brahms wrote settings for piano and voice of 144 German folk songs, and many of his lieder reflect folk themes or depict scenes of rural life. Despite his mastery of large, complex musical structures, some of Brahms’s most popular compositions during his lifetime were small-scale works that were readily playable by amateur musicians at home, such as the Hungarian Dances, the Waltzes for piano duet (Op. 39), and the Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52. He worked with some of the leading performers of his day. Many of his works are staples of the modern concert repertoire.

Information for this article was taken from Wikipedia.

Click here to read about the correspondence between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann.

2Cellos

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I first became aware of 2Cellos when a Facebook friend posted this video:

Notice the guys’ raggedy bows, with the horsehair hanging down? Before this video, I’d never seen that before. No self-respecting cellist would perform with his bow in that condition.

Now it’s a trend.

I had the good fortune of sitting in a front row seat when they performed at a local venue a few years ago. They played so fast and so hard that I could literally smell the horsehair on their bows burning. I understand how their bows got that way.

The duo is made up of Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser. Hauser, born in Pula, Croatia, and Šulić, born in Maribor, Slovenia, are classically trained musicians. They met while still in their teens. Šulić attended the Academy of Music in Zagreb, and then studied in Vienna. He later entered London’s Royal Academy of Music. Hauser attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, after completing his studies at Trinity Laban in London. Before they became partners, the two cellists were sometimes rivals, competing against each other in music contests.

Despite their musical success in the United Kingdom, Hauser and Šulić struggled financially until a friend suggested making the music video cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” The duo rose to fame in 2011 after their video became a hit on YouTube, receiving over three million views in the first two weeks.

After Elton John watched the “Smooth Criminal” video online, he personally called Šulić and invited the duo to appear with him on his thirty-one city 2011 summer tour.

2Cellos has recorded four albums with Sony Masterworks.

Though their video covers of pop music have made them famous, they both still perform classically, soloing with major symphony orchestras around the world.

 

Itzhak Perlman

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Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 in Israel. He began playing on a toy violin at age three until he was old enough to play on a real violin. His family emigrated to the United States in 1958, and at age 13 he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, launching his professional career. I remember seeing that broadcast and my mother commenting on his skill and his young age at the time. This might have been that actual performance; if not, it’s from the same time period:

Perlman contracted polio at age four. When he first started performing, much was made of the poor kid with the crutches, and people speculated that his career would be short because of his disability. He proved the naysayers wrong by becoming one of the most popular violinists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, playing as a solo recitalist and symphonic soloist with a varied repertoire, performing with the finest orchestras all over the world, and also on television (such as The Late Show with David Letterman, Sesame Street, The Tonight Show, the Grammy Awards telecasts, and numerous Live From Lincoln Center Broadcasts) and in movies. He also advocates for the disabled.

One of his most famous performances was on the soundtrack of Schindler’s List, playing the gorgeous music of John Williams’ score.

In January 2009, Perlman participated in the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, premiering a piece written for the occasion by John Williams and performing with clarinetist Anthony McGill, pianist Gabriela Montero, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In December 2003 the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts granted Mr. Perlman a Kennedy Center Honor celebrating his distinguished achievements and contributions to the cultural and educational life of our nation. In May 2007, he performed at the State Dinner for Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, hosted by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at the White House.

In February 2008, Itzhak Perlman was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in the recording arts. His recordings regularly appear on the best-seller charts and have earned him fifteen Grammy Awards.

Click here to view a video of Perlman conducting and playing the solo in “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

The Perlman music program, founded in 1995 by Itzhak’s wife, Toby Perlman, and Suki Sandler, started as a summer camp for exceptional string musicians between the ages of 11 and 18. Over time, it expanded to a year-long program. Itzhak Perlman and other string teachers coach the students before they perform at venues such as the Sutton Place Synagogue and public schools. The program strives to have musicians who would otherwise practice alone develop a network of friends and colleagues.

Itzhak Perlman is also known for his delightful sense of humor. Here is a portion of a performance with the Boston Pops, John Williams, and Peter Schickele.

At least three documentaries have been made of Perlman’s life. Below is the trailer for the most recent one.

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