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?
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.
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.
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.