Recorded on 09/01/2009, uploaded on 09/01/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Johannes Brahms' wrote the Variations on a Theme of Paganini in
1862-3 and it would be his last set of variations for the piano. Brahms
actually titled the piece Studien (Studies) to emphasize that the work
was an exploration of the technical possibilities of the piano. No doubt the
work is extremely demanding of a performer's technique to say the least.
Whereas, Brahms' prior set of variations on the theme by Handel was a great
testament to tradition, the Paganini variations was, conversely, a bravura
display of virtuosity as practiced by the "New German" school of composers
(Franz Liszt being at the forefront of the group), with which Brahms was mostly
The piece is based on the famous
theme of Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in A minor. It has been the subject
of variation sets many times since its composition. The most notable are those
by Brahms, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. Brahms' set is divided into two books each
containing the theme, fourteen variations and a coda. To Brahms' friends, the
piece was known as the "Hexenvariationen" or "Witchcraft Variations," because
of the astonishing feats it required the performer to make. It was Clara
Schumann that thus nicknamed the work.
The Paganini Variations was
essentially Brahms' attempt to "out-Weimer the Weimarites," as Malcolm McDonald
put it, on their own ground. This probably arose from his friendship with Carl
Tausig, a student and ardent supporter of Liszt, and whose piano playing Brahms
admired. The choice of the theme was also part of this gesture as Liszt himself
had previously used the theme in his own set of variations.
The piece presents varying
technical challenges to the pianists, including studies in double sixths,
double thirds, wide leaps between hands or with only one hand, trills at the
top of chords, polyrhythms, octaves, and the list goes on. Most of the strictly
technical demands are made in Book I, in which this is the focus. Book II, on
the other hand, is more concerned with the compositional development of the
theme. While still challenging, technique recedes to the background allowing
for Brahms' gift of melodic development to come to the fore.
Together with the Handel
Variations, these two pieces established Brahms as the greatest composer of
variations in his time. Together they are the perfect example of the "old" and
"new" approach to piano composition in the Romantic era.
We at classicalconnect.com believe that classical music is a necessity of life. It is our pleasure to be your virtual concert hall and bring you this performance.
Copyright 2008-2010 Classical Connect, LLC