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Brahms Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2

By November 21, 2020March 19th, 2023No Comments

I am going to do with a Brahms piano piece what I have done with singers. I am going to have the same piece played by several pianists so that you can see how the interpretation differs. The piece is the Intermezzo in A major, op.118 no.2. This is a piece that I myself played when I was young. Technically, it is not tremendously difficult. What is very difficult is getting the piano to sing in long lines and with a variety of tonal colors. Each of these pianists does it in his own way.

Heinrich Neuhaus

Nelson Freire

Youri Egorov, beginning at time stamp 2:03

Julius Katchen

Heinrich Neuhaus

Born: April 2, 1888 – Elizavetgrad, Ukraine
Died: October 10, 1964 – Moscow, Russia

Heinrich (Gustavovich) Neuhaus was an outstanding pianist and pedagogue;his creation of a piano school was a great achievement in a development of the art of piano playing. His life-long approach to teaching was strongly influenced by the first impressions of his childhood. His father Gustav, of German origin, and his mother Olga, of Polish origin, were a music teachers.

Heinrich Neuhaus’ mother, Olga Blumenfeld, was the sister of Felix Blumenfeld; he was a famous conductor and professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, a pianist and composer, and he died in 1931. Following Blumenfeld’s advice, Neuhaus went to Berlin, in 1905 to study with Leopold Godowsky. When he arrived in Berlin at the age of 17, he was already a great concert pianist. He was fluent in German, French, Italian, English, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. After studying briefly with Godowsky, Neuhaus went to Italy for two years. He considered it the most productive and happy period of his musical and personal life.

After returning to Russia, he was sent to the Berlin Hochschule der Musik. His piano teacher there was Heinrich Bart. Bart’s teaching was very much in the spirit of the old German school. He didn’t recognize composers like Franz Liszt, Wagner, Debussy, Scriabin, Gustav Mahler, Strauss, and Max Reger. He thought real music ended with Johannes Brahms, and the real art of performance finished also with Brahms. Neuhaus eventually made his way to Vienna to the Masterschule in Vienna Academy of Music. Later in 1915, Neuhaus took examinations and received his diploma from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. That same year he was invited to teach in the Tbilisi Conservatory in Georgia.

From 1919 until 1922 he taught in Kiev Conservatory. This was a very special and active time. In 1922 Neuhaus was transferred to the Moscow Conservatory. The Moscow period of Neuhaus’ musical life lasted until his death in 1964.

Neuhaus’ pedagogy was completely different from that of other teachers. There was always an audience at his lessons: students of different professions constantly came in, sometimes for a whole day, to hear and to see his teaching.

Heinrich Neuhaus’ pedagogical book, “The Art of Piano Playing” (1958), is still regarded as one of the most authoritative and most widely used treatments on the subject.

Nelson Freire

Pianist Nelson Freire was born in Brazil in 1944, and he began piano studies at the age of three with the teachers Nise Obino and Lucia Branco, who had previously studied with a pupil of Liszt. He made his first public appearance at the age of five with the Mozart Sonata in A, K. 331. In 1957, after winning a grant at the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition with his performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor”Concerto, he went to Vienna to study with Bruno Seidlhofer, teacher of Friedrich Gulda. Seven years later, he was awarded the Dinu Lipatti Medal in London and the first prize at the International Vianna da Motta Competition in Lisbon.

Freire’s international career began in 1959 and included performances in Europe, the United States, Central and South America, Japan, and Israel.

In March 2007, Freire was appointed Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. In 2002, he was nominated as the “Soloist of the Year” by the French Victoires de la Musique and received a special Honorary Award for his lifetime career in January 2005. His Chopin recording was nominated for a Grammy in 2006, and his recording of the Brahms Concertos with Riccardo Chailly was nominated for a Grammy in 2007, as well as being named “Record of the Year” and winner of the Concerto Category Gramophone in 2007.

Youri Egorov

Born: May 28, 1954 – Kazan, USSR
Died: April 15, 1988 – Amsterdam, Holland

The soviet pianist, Youri Egorov, studied music at the Kazan Conservatory from the age of 6 until age 17. One of his early teachers was Irina Dubinina, a former pupil of Yakov Zak. At the age of 17, in 1971, Egorov took 4th Prize in Paris at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition. He next studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Yakov Zak himself. Egorov remained at the Moscow Conservatory for six years. In 1974, he won the Bronze Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1975, he was awarded the 3rd Prize at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition Of Belgium. Feeling constrained by the Soviet system, Egorov defected from the Soviet Union in 1976 while on a concert tour in Rome, Italy. In 1977 he participated in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. He became an audience favorite. When he was not chosen as a finalist, some disappointed and angry listeners formed a committee to raise money for Egorov equal to the Van Cliburn top prize of $10,000. The South African Steven DeGroote took the first place award that year.

Egorov gave his New York recital debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on January 23, 1978. Three months later to the day, he appeared in Chicago, Illinois and a critic there dubbed his performance “the debut of the decade.” In July, 1978, Musical America Magazine selected Youri Egorov as their “Musician of the Month”. He made his Carnegie Hall debut on December 16, 1978. The concert was recorded live.

Throughout the 1980’s he played primarily in Europe. His last American appearance was in Florida in 1986. Egorov was featured in the book “Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves” compiled by Elyse Mach. In it, he spoke candidly on the topics of rehearsal, pre-concert nervousness, artistic restrictions in Russia, and homosexuality. Sviatoslav Richter, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould are among the pianists Youri Egorov cited as having influenced him.

Egorov died by suicide at his home in Amsterdam in 1988 at the age of 33. He had AIDS and was deteriorating quickly. He was 33 years old. He had made 14 recordings at the time of his death and several more were awaiting release. In 1989 Egorov was the subject of a VPRO Television documentary, “Youri Egorov 1954 – 1988” by Eline Flipse. The program won the special prize of the jury at the BANFF-televisiefestival in Canada and was nominated in 1990 for the Prix Italia.

Julius Katchen

Born: August 15, 1926 -New Jersey, US
Died: April 29, 1969 -Paris, France

A child prodigy of startling promise, Julius Katchen matured into a solo and chamber music pianist of broad interests and probing artistry. His death from cancer at age 42 denied a discerning public the presence of a pianist especially well-equipped to penetrate to the center-most meanings of those works he favored.

Born to a musical family, Katchen was instructed in the musical arts from his earliest years. His grandmother, formerly a faculty member at the Warsaw Conservatory, was his first piano instructor, while his grandfather taught him theory (his mother, a pianist, had trained at the Fontainebleau School of Music and had made concert appearances in both Europe and America). In 1937, Katchen presented himself to Eugene Ormandy and requested that he be permitted to play for him. Ormandy was sufficiently impressed to engage the lad for an appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The October 21, 1937, concert found Katchen performing Mozart’s Concerto in D minor to high praise. Following this glowing reception, the 11-year-old pianist was invited to perform at a pension fund concert with the New York Philharmonic the following month.

Before his career advanced, however, Katchen’s parents chose to place a hold on further public appearances and enroll him instead at Haverford College, where he majored in philosophy and English literature. His break, Katchen often insisted, developed in him the intellectual curiosity that fed his interest in the more mentally challenging works in the repertory.

A fellowship extended by the French government permitted Katchen to travel to Paris in 1946; that cosmopolitan city became his home for the remainder of his life and he lost no time in making himself a formidable presence there and in the rest of Europe, respected for his commanding interpretive thoughtfulness and virtuoso technique. He undertook several highly successful tours of the Continent, winning acclaim in each center he visited. Decca Records signed him to an exclusive contract and he began recording a bracing cross-section of the repertory with Brahms always at the core.

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms, (born May 7, 1833, Hamburg [Germany]—died April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now in Austria]), was a German composer and pianist of the Romantic period, who wrote symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, choral compositions, and more than 200 songs. Brahms was the great master of symphonic and sonata style in the second half of the 19th century. He can be viewed as the protagonist of the Classical tradition of Joseph Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven in a period when the standards of this tradition were being questioned or overturned by the Romantics.

The chief of these was the nature of Schumann’s encomium itself. There was already conflict between the “neo-German” school, dominated by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and the more conservative elements, whose main spokesman was Schumann. The latter’s praise of Brahms displeased the former, and Brahms himself, though kindly received by Liszt, did not conceal his lack of sympathy with the self-conscious modernists. He was therefore drawn into controversy, and most of the disturbances in his otherwise uneventful personal life arose from this situation. Gradually Brahms came to be on close terms with the Schumann household, and, when Schumann was first taken mentally ill in 1854, Brahms assisted Clara Schumann in managing her family. He appears to have fallen in love with her; but, though they remained deep friends after Schumann’s death in 1856, their relationship did not, it seems, go further.

Between 1857 and 1860 Brahms moved between the court of Detmold—where he taught the piano and conducted a choral society—and Göttingen, while in 1859 he was appointed conductor of a women’s choir in Hamburg. Such posts provided valuable practical experience and left him enough time for his own work.

By 1861 he was back in Hamburg, and in the following year he made his first visit to Vienna, with some success. Having failed to secure the post of conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic concerts, he settled in Vienna in 1863, assuming direction of the Singakademie, a fine choral society. His life there was on the whole regular and quiet, disturbed only by the ups and downs of his musical success, by altercations occasioned by his own quick temper and by the often virulent rivalry between his supporters and those of Wagner and Anton Bruckner, and by one or two inconclusive love affairs. His music, despite a few failures and constant attacks by the Wagnerites, was established, and his reputation grew steadily. By 1872 he was principal conductor of the Society of Friends of Music (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), and for three seasons he directed the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. His choice of music was not as conservative as might have been expected, and though the “Brahmins” continued their war against Wagner, Brahms himself always spoke of his rival with respect. Brahms is sometimes portrayed as unsympathetic toward his contemporaries. His kindness to Antonín Dvořák is always acknowledged, but his encouragement even of such a composer as the young Gustav Mahler is not always realized, and his enthusiasm for Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony is not generally known.
In between these two appointments in Vienna, Brahms’s work flourished and some of his most significant works were composed. The year 1868 witnessed the completion of his most famous choral work, Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem).

Gradually Brahms’s renown spread beyond Germany and Austria. Switzerland and the Netherlands showed true appreciation of his art, and Brahms’s concert tours to these countries as well as to Hungary and Poland won great acclaim. The University of Breslau (now the University of Wrocław, Poland) conferred an honorary degree on him in 1879. The composer thanked the university by writing the Academic Festival Overture (1881) based on various German student songs. Among his other orchestral works at this time were the Violin Concerto in D Major (1878) and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major (1881).

Brahms remained in Vienna for the rest of his life. He resigned as director of the Society of Friends of Music in 1875, and from then on devoted his life almost solely to composition. When he went on concert tours, he conducted or performed (on the piano) only his own works. He maintained a few close personal friendships and remained a lifelong bachelor. He spent his summers traveling in Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. During these years Brahms composed the boldly conceived Double Concerto in A Minor (1887) for violin and cello, the powerful Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor (1886), and the Violin Sonata in D Minor (1886–88). He also completed the radiantly joyous first String Quintet in F Major (1882) and the energetic second String Quintet in G Major (1890).