Recorded on 05/02/2009, uploaded on 06/23/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Johannes Brahms composed his Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor
intermittently throughout 1853; however, it was not complete when he first met
the Schumanns. It is the last and the greatest of his piano sonatas. Brahms wrote
his three piano sonatas within the time of a couple of years, yet it is
remarkable to observe the giant leaps he made as a composer in such a short
time. The F minor sonata is in five movements, instead of the more usual four,
and is his single largest composition for piano. According to Malcolm McDonald
it also "stands with Liszt's B minor Sonata and the Grande Sonate of
Alkan as one of the three greatest piano sonatas of the mid-nineteenth
The F minor sonata is the result of everything Brahms had
learned from his previous two sonatas. The F sharp minor was endowed with
Romantic passion and a fantasia-like construction. The C major sonata was its
exact opposite, a stern testament of Classical form. The F minor sonata was,
consequently, the synthesis of the two. While still evident is Brahms'
remarkable understanding and handling of Classical forms, the piece is
enlivened by the same Romantic passion of the F sharp minor sonata.
The opening of the first movement is heroic and assertive, but
proves to be the only musical germ from which the rest of the movement grows.
What ensues is a rich sonata form that is no doubt inspired by Beethoven in its
virtuosic displays and ability to nearly break the medium of its expression.
While Brahms turned to actual "old songs" for the slow
movements of his previous two sonatas, he invents one of his own, without
words, for the slow movement of the F minor sonata. The movement, however, is
headed by a quotation from the poet Sternau: "The twilight falls, the moonlight
gleams, two hearts in love unite, embraced in rapture." Unlike the variation
sets of the first two sonatas, this movement is structured as a large ternary
form of almost symphonic proportions.
After the fiery scherzo, Brahms interjects a short movement
before the finale marked as an Intermezzo, with the subtitle "Rückblick" (a
backward glance). In this movement, the theme of the Andante slow movement
undergoes a remarkable transformation. Thus, it "looks back" to the slow
movement. The F minor sonata then concludes with a restless rondo. Like the C
major sonata, the finale begins with a scherzo-like character, yet there are no
other similarities to be found between the two movements.
Brahms, in his later years, sometimes thought of revisiting
the F minor sonata and possibly revising portions of it. However and possibly
for the best, Brahms never did make whatever revisions he intended. With this sonata,
Brahms left the form and never returned to it. Yet, within the space of two
years and in three magnificent compositions, he left his indelible mark on the
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