Intimate thoughts and feelings for a dying friend

Sadness. © Charles Thibo

It’s raining outside. While we did not have enough rain in June and July, nature seems to catch up now. The climate is changing. We are experiencing weather extremes: droughts, floods. Resignation. I can do my best to reduce my carbon footprint, but sometimes it feels so pointless. A disheartening feeling, difficult to suppress. It takes a real effort to convince myself over and over again: Every step counts. Every step counts. Let’s not loose hope.

Brahms quoting Brahms

What did Johannes Brahms brood over when he wrote Piano Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 also called “Regenlied” (Rain song)? Brahms wrote this piece between 1878 and 1879 and the sonata takes up a theme that Brahms had used before in the final movement of a song Brahms had written in 1873 after a poem called “Regenlied” (op. 59). The composer quoted himself and the name is neither related to Brahms’ mood nor the music as such. He did not think much of this work. He sent the manuscript to Clara Schumann and added an ironic remark: “The sonata – yes, it is enclosed, just look at it. I fear, it is boring.”

Boring? Excuse me, Herr Brahms, it’s certainly not boring, no, no, it is wonderful. Its gentle sadness, a tempting sweetness, leaving the door open for some sunshine between those rain showers. It is a true autumn piece that I have enjoyed many times since I felt that the summer was drawing to its end.  I would like to draw your attention to two recordings: one by Christian Tetzlaff (violin) and Lars Vogt (piano) and another one by Pinchas Zukerman (violin) and Daniel Barenboim (piano). Both are very close although the duo Tetzlaff/Vogt tends to play the sonata a little faster than Zukerman and Barenboim.

Love as the supreme message

Brahms wrote the sonata for his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. The composer and the violinist performed it only on February 11, 1880, much later than the premiere, that most likely took place in November 1879. At the same time the score was printed by the Simrock publishing house. Brahms donated his royalty of 1000 Taler to the “Schumann Fund”, to support Robert Schumann’s son Felix who was being treated in Italy for lung tuberculosis.

Brahms’ biographer Max Kalbeck writes that the sonata joins the past and the present and reminds us of the evanescence of mankind. The sonata oscillates between major and minor tonalities, between sincere human warmth and muted melancholy. Christian Tetzlaff interprets the sonata as a testimony of Brahms attachment to the Schumann family. Brahms, a usually taciturn man, expresses his most intimate thoughts and feelings.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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