Brahms Before the Beard: His Early Style and Influences

Pianists and music lovers worldwide have an image of Brahms: portly, graying — and sporting that majestic beard, of course. His masterful symphonies grapple with the shadow of Beethoven, and his autumnal late piano pieces reckon profoundly with death.

But rewind the clock a few decades, and you’ll find a Brahms who looked—and sounded—very different. Clean-shaven and ready to take on the world, the young Johannes still had something to prove, and his works show it: in their rough-hewn genius, it’s like he couldn’t decide if the piano was the perfect substitute for full orchestra, or an outlet for demonic obsessions.

To learn what makes this style so remarkable, join Noah Alden Hardaway (tonebase’s Assistant Head of Piano) this on Thursday at 11 Pacific. The livestream will especially feature the Ballades, Op. 10, and the Sonata in C, Op. 1, and how you can bring out their unique charms.

Which pieces by Brahms have you already played?

Have you played any early works of Brahms?

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  • I Have played the first 2 ballads Op 10 and am still learning No.2 which is very sophisticated and rather orchestral in many ways. I am looking forward to this class. I have a conflicting board meeting which I have to chair on Zoom right at that time. I hope I can access the video later that day. Thank you for putting this on, I really appreciate it. 

     Priscilla Yam

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    • priscillayam I'm so glad you've worked on these amazing pieces! Those are two of my favorites as well.

      If you have a question, please ask it here and then I'll do my best to answer it during the livestream! And yes, the video will be available afterwards.

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    • Noah Hardaway 

      I have not received the actual Zoom link yet. Could you send it? Thanks

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    • priscillayam This is a regular live stream and not an interactive class, you can watch it as usual through: https://app.tonebase.co/piano/live/player/noah-hardaway-brahms-before-the-beard

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  • Hello Noah, I went through the ballad #2  in D tonight, I have a small span of an octave being 5 ft 3”, the opening  section,  I take some notes on the right hand staff with my left hand  such as the downbeat to avoid rolling the chords and it is hard to not disturb the bacarolle-like lull of the left hand.  From Bar 23 doppioMovimento: this part is the most orchestral to me . Like a whole cello section on the staccatos quarter notes and chords. No pedal except where indicated?  Then Bar 51 , molto staccato e leggiero - all these grace notes on the intervals- How do I practice so I made no mistakes ? This section is the hardest for me . I am trying to come on time but could be a bit late so that I can participate in the live chat and hear all the Q & A. Thank you. 

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    • priscillayam I 'm so glad you asked these questions -- I hope you find the answers helpful! Some of them are "processes," not quick fixes, but that's what piano playing is all about sometimes.

      Let me know if you have questions about No. 3-- it's a devil to play (with an angelic middle section!), very awkward unless you have a fingering that works for your hand.

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    • Noah Hardaway I am glad even a professional finds these difficult but they are not obvious unless you started to work on them. I am an amateur, this has been my abiding love and hobby, I am still taking lessons from Mark Robson, who is a real task master! if you are not from the West Coast, you may not have heard of him.  today's lesson has been an inspiration for all of us. 

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  • Okay, I think it will come an hour before 11 am. Today, I have another zoom before that, I just was too anxious.  Sorry! priscilla Yam

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    • Suzanne
    • Suzanneferree
    • 8 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Thanks, Noah! This was wonderful and I hope there will be more.

    I’m playing the Ballade 10/1 this weekend for my piano group.  I may be driving off the edge of the highway here, but I’ve developed an interpretation of the last section that has me wondering if young Brahms wrote his own end to the story, because in the poem we never know what motivated the patricide.

    The fevered questioning of the B section ends with the son answering that what he will leave to his Mother is the curse of hell because she advised him to commit the murder.

    I like to think Brahms fashioned a kind of afterword (in the last section) where the mother and son realize they are both trapped – she and his wife and children without means, and he having committed a murder, and the mother hinting that maybe the event can actually benefit both of them.  And maybe this has been her plan all along.  The two measures at the end of the B section into the last section have the two voices meeting up in a hushed standoff, a musical locking of the eyes. Then she starts her persuading theme again with his worrisome lub-dub heartbeat running all over underneath which then changes to her steady heartbeat in the upper voice in the final measures as she awaits his accord, with his voice eventually moving upward in a kind a hesitant agreement.  This is all just my imagination, but, who knows?

    Also interesting is Brahms Op. 75/1 in which he revisits this poem in a vocal duet with piano. And I understand somewhere before 75/1 he started to write another (unfinished) version of this poem for small orchestra and choir. This “Edward” poem certainly intrigued him.

     

    -Suzanne King

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    • Pauline
    • Pauline
    • 8 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Thank you, Noah! Thank you, everyone! Enjoyable lesson!

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