May 7, 2012. Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Two great Romantic composers were born on this day, Johannes Brahms in 1833, in the great Hansean city of Hamburg, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 1840, in a provincial city of Votkinsk (we usually follow the awkward tradition of using a patronymic in Tchaikovsky’s name but very much hope that it would be dropped: in Russia every person has a patronymic, but nobody presents Rachmaninov in English as “Sergei Vasilievich” or Mussorgsky as “Modest Petrovich.” If anyone knows the history behind the tradition of calling Tchaikovsky “Pyotr Ilyich,” please let us know).
Considering Brahms’ talent and prodigious output, his first surviving compositions were written rather late: Opus 1, Piano Sonata no. 1 dates from 1853, when Brahms was already 20 (you can listen to it in the performance by Jean-François Latour). (It’s interesting that by the age of 20, Mozart had already written at least 20 symphonies, eight piano concertos, five violin concertos, more than a dozen of violin sonatas, quartets too many to count, and several operas). But we don’t really know the whole story: Brahms was an obsessive perfectionist and apparently destroyed a large number of his early compositions (he claimed to have destroyed 20 early quartets before eventually publishing one in 1773). This is not the only example: the young Brahms worked on a symphony for a number of years, only to turn it into a piano concerto, his No. 1 (1859) – and a good thing too: it’s one of the greatest concertos in all of piano literature. He also worked on his “official” First symphony for fifteen years, from about 1861 to 1876. When he was 20, Brahms’ friend the violinist Joseph Joachim introduced him to Robert and Clara Schumann. Robert was very impressed by Brahms and wrote an article praising the young composer. Eventually Schumann and Brahms co-wrote (with Albert Dietrich) the “F-A-E” violin sonata and dedicated it to Joachim. Brahms was passionately attracted to Clara Schumann. After Robert’s attempted suicide he immersed himself into the family, serving as a go-between Clara and Robert. When Schumann died in an asylum in 1856, Brahms moved into the same house as Clara into an apartment above hers. We don’t know if they were lovers, but Brahms never married, (though he was engaged once), and they destroyed their correspondence. Here is Brahms’s Piano Concerto no. 1. It’s performed by Eteri Andjaparidze with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Valery Gergiev.
Tchaikovsky was even more of a late bloomer than Brahms. His piano Scherzo op. 1 is dated 1867 when he was 27. Tchaikovsky started his education in a School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, and at that time studied music only sporadically. His regular music lessons started only when he was 15 (his teacher didn’t think much of his musical potential). At the age of 21 Tchaikovsky attended classes on music theory organized by the Russian Music Society. One of the organizers of the Society was Anton Rubinstein, and one year later, in 1862, the classes evolved, with the help of Rubinstein, into the St-Petersburg Conservatory. (Four years later his brother, Nikolai, a good friend of Tchaikovsky’s, would establish the Moscow Conservatory). Pyotr enrolled in the first class of the Conservatory. Even though very little was composed by Tchaikovsky during those years, Anton Rubinstein considered him “a composer of genius.” Still, he didn’t like his First Symphony, written in 1866. That year Tchaikovsky graduated from the St.-Petersburg conservatory and immediately accepted a professorship in the just-created conservatory in Moscow.
Tchaikovsky wrote his Piano Concerto no. 1 in 1874-75. He dedicated it to his friend Nikolai Rubinstein, expecting him to give the first performance. Unfortunately Nikolai didn’t like the concerto. The piqued Tchaikovsky withdrew the dedication and approached the pianist Hans von Bülow who was happy to oblige. The concerto premiered in Boston in October of 1875 with Bülow at the piano and Benjamin Johnson Lang on the podium. The public loved it, and a month later the concerto premiered in New York to great acclaim. We’ll hear it performed by James Dick, with the Texas Festival Orchestra, Robert Spano conducting (here).
Copyright 2008-2010 Classical Connect, LLC