Recorded on 07/09/2011, uploaded on 09/05/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
7 Fantasien, op. 116 Johannes Brahms
With the sonatas and variation sets of his early and middle career long behind him, Brahms turned the focus of his piano output to the composition of miniatures, building on the musical traits that first manifested themselves in the op. 10 Ballades. Much like Beethoven before him, Brahms’s last piano compositions (and much of his later music in general) are characterized by a greater introspection and a recasting of forms to meet the demands of more profound utterings. This different direction for Brahms began with the eight pieces that make up op. 76 and the two Rhapsodies, op. 79 composed in 1879-80. It culminated in the four sets of op. 116-19 a few years later in 1892-93.
The seven pieces of op. 116, which Brahms title Fantasien, as opposed to the general title of Klavierstücke which he gave to op. 117-19, partially look back to op. 76 but also provide a seamless transition to the later sets. Like that previous set, op. 116 blends a mixture of Capricii and Intermezzi, while the op. 117-19 focus mostly on the more reflective Intermezzo, with the occasional Ballade and Romanze, and of course the bravura Rhapsody that ends Brahms’s piano output. Op. 116 also displays a structural unity not inherent in the other sets. It begins and ends with Capricii in D minor which envelope four Intermezzi and another Capricii also arranged in distinct tonal relationships. Each piece is also connected by the use of Brahms’s favorite musical motif—a chain of descending of thirds, though this trait is found in the later sets as well.
Both of the outer Capricci in D minor focuses on syncopation often with the emphasis shifted to the weak beat of the measure. The second piece, an Intermezzo in A minor, continues with the rhythmic displacement of the first Capriccio, though less pronounced, shifting the emphasis to the second beat of each measure of triple time. Next is another Capriccio in G minor. Its outer sections are fiery and somewhat reminiscent of Brahms’s early scherzos. A noble melody in E flat major serves as a contrasting middle section.
The following three Intermezzi form a sort of self-contained unit. The outer two (nos. 4 and 6) are in E major with the central Intermezzo in E minor. The mood of these three Intermezzi is reflective and Brahms calls on his mastery of piano technique to create subtle shadings of color and to bring out the expressive qualities of the instrument. The last Capriccio then closes the set with an ingenious use of falling thirds and diminished seventh harmonies to disguise the return of the original D minor tonality. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of the Steans Institute
The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.
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