PRO-5308: 19th-Century Viola Music
Brahms and Joachim
Among present-day cognoscenti, the artistic stature of Johannes Brahms ranks alongside that of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, while that of his contemporary and champion, Joseph Joachim, usually merits little more than a footnote. That their lives were intertwined, and that Joachim influenced and stimulated Brahms to his best efforts is indisputable. However, as a composer, which is the best insurance of immortality for a musician, Joachim is virtually forgotten, although the relatively few compositions from his pen show great sincerity of feeling and deserve more than a passing inclusion in the modern concert repertoire. Most historians recognize him for his special relationship with Brahms. The two artists maintained a solid personal and artistic friendship throughout their lives which even their disagreement over the breakup of Joachims marriage failed to permanently disrupt. It was Joachim who introduced Brahms to the Schumanns. He also collaborated extensively in the writing of Brahms' Violin Concerto, to say nothing of the the professional advice and help he selflessly brought to virtually all of the chamber music compositions. The Piano Sonata in C-Major, which Brahms designated as his Opus 1, is dedicated to Joachim.
The great violinist had a special affinity for the viola. Brahms recognized this by writing and presenting in manuscript his Zwei Gesänge, Opus 91 for Alto, Viola and Piano to the Joachims (Joachims wife was an accomplished singer) on the occasion of the birth of their first child. By this time, Joachim had already written at least two compositions for viola and piano. His Hebrew Melodies, Opus 9 and his Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 10 had appeared in 1851 and 1852, directly preceding his otherwise most famous work, the Hungarian Violin Concerto, Opus 11.
The Hebrew Melodies bear the subtitle Impressions of Byrons Poems. Although this writer has been unable to uncover reference in Joachims correspondence to the poems in question, we do know from a letter by Liszt, that about this time Joachim collaborated with Berlioz in a concert of the latters works in Weimar. It is therefore not inconceivable that Berliozs symphonic viola concerto, Harold in Italy would have been known to Joachim, if indeed not actually played by him. Perhaps then, these Impressions of Byrons Poems owe their inspiration to the same Childe Harold as Berliozs celebrated viola concerto.
Brahms Violin Sonata, Opus 78, written in 1879, was often performed by Joachim. Clara Schumann was also one of its ardent admirers, writing Many others could perhaps understand it and speak about it better but no one could feel it more than I do. It is certainly one of Brahms most lyrical and intimate works. Profoundly gentle throughout, the piece maintains a unity of emotional content quite apart from the integration of thematic and rhythmic material which the composer so skillfully weaves into the fabric of the music. The last movement, with its pattering accompaniment recalling the beating of falling rain, was taken from an earlier song Regenlied.
Always a favorite sonata with violinists, in 1974 discovery was made in Vienna of an arrangement and transposition to D-major for cello, supposedly done by the composer himself. Musicologist George S. Bozarth, writing in 1987, asserts that the arrangement was more likely made by Paul Klengel. However, it would be unlikely that an arrangement, published in 1897 (the year of Brahms death) by Brahms own publisher, Simrock, would have been made without the knowledge and permission of Brahms himself. Since its introduction in this form by cellist Janos Starker at the Rivinia festival, the work has been enthusiastically embraced by cellists worldwide. The present recording is believed to the first recording on the viola.
As our present century draws to a close, the name of Hans Sitt is not well known. Perhaps only occasionally does it still peer out at us as editor from some very old edition of a familiar chamber work. Yet, haveing been paid to pen bowings and fingerings into the quartets of the great masters, thus guaranteeing another few years of copyright fees for an international publishing house, presupposes some degree of eminence on the part of an editor. Indeed, Hans Sitt, violin soloist, concertmaster, professor of violin at the Leipzig Conservatoire, violist of the Brodsy Quartet, and highly regarded orchestral and choral guest conductor throughout Europe, was an important artist in his own day and age. Hans Sitt, composer, has been largely overlooked by modern musicians.
Born in Prague, son of a successful Hungarian violin maker, Hans Sitt traced his violinistic roots through his teachers to both Stamitz and the Mannheim School, and through Viotti, Pugnani and the old masters Corelli, Vivaldi and Tartini, to the Italian School. It is no wonder then, that his elegant bowing, beautiful tone, impeccable technic and noble interpretations were an inspiration to audiences and students alike. Hans Muenzer, one of Sitt's last pupils and later concertmaster of the Chicago Theater Orchestra, recounts that his teacher had once chided Breitkopf & Härtel (the publisher of many of his own works) about Bruckner's symphonies, saying: "You are printing so much (other) rubbish, it won't hurt you to print this too." The symphonies were printed.
Sitt's compositions, which number over 140, include several violin concertos, concertinos, two viola concertos, two cello concertos, an opera (Queen Christine of Sweden), songs, overtures and large orchestral and choral works as well as numerous etudes, duets and study materials for both violin and viola. In addition to chamber music, he edited and revised over 40 violin concertos as well as the works of Ernst, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski. Before the invention of radio and recorded music, in a time when music was often either played at home or not heard at all, his published transcriptions for violin and piano of the symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert as well as orchestral music of Grieg and many others, enriched the violin literature for executants and home listeners alike.
Unfortunately, in our present age, when both concert halls and record stores are packed with innumerable performances of the Brandenburg Concertos, the Four Seasons, and the complete Beethoven symphonies, most of Hans Sitt's music has been utterly forgotten; barely recoverable in libraries from editions which have remained our of print for 80 years. In great part, this adulation of international stars performing exclusively in large concert halls, the invention of recording, the demise of drawing room performances as they existed in the 19th-century, along with the new currents of impressionism, Wagnerianism, atonality and new music of every sort, to say nothing of two world wars, have brought about a revolution in our musical culture.
The result; a whole world of music not especially suited to large concert halls, yet wholly ingratiating and entertaining, was unconsciously consigned to oblivion. Not so incredible then, that the present recording of the Album Leaves, Opus 39 should be the first recording of this work. As such, it also represents one of the very few recordings of Hans Sitt's music ever produced.
The Rumanian, Georges Enesco, can be regarded as a model of the versatile musician. In the words of a contemporary, violinist Carl Flesch, "It would be impossible to say which of his gifts deserves to be regarded as the greatest, since his qualities as composer, conductor, violinist and pianist were about equally outstanding". To this list we add: Professor of violin, whose most famous pupil was Yehudi Menuhin; and violist. The very existence of the Concertpiece for Viola and Piano as well as its style of viola writing, suggests that he was a gifted violist indeed. That so meticulous a chronicler as Flesch neglects to mention this role can be seen as commentary on the philosophy of the time when, in an emergency, virtually any violinist could be considered a violist.
Without question, though, Enesco's formal training qualified him most highly as violinist. Graduate of the Vienna Conservatory at an early age, he later won the first prize at the Paris Conservatoire after an intensive course of study with Martin Marsick. It might be noted here, as an illustration of the close relationships that exist between practitioners within the tradition of violin playing, that this same Marsick had earlier been a pupil and disciple of Joseph Joachim in Berlin; he was also the teacher of Carl Flesch.
Although the composer of several symphonies, an opera, various violin sonatas and music for solo piano, Enesco is most famous for his Roumanian Rapsody for Orchestra. His writing, particularly for strings, is always brilliant and idiomatic and he is not adverse to throwing in a passage or two for solo violin, solo viola, or cello, which makes him a favorite of string players.
Capable of defending himself at the piano in virtually any setting and in any company (he often accompanied violinist colleagues and his own students in recitals) Enesco's writing for keyboard is equally well conceived and challenging. For all these reasons, his Concertpiece holds a favorite place in the viola repertoire for performers and listeners alike.
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