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Thread: Brahms 8 Pieces For Piano, op. 76 - Anyone Find It Insubtantial?

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    Default Brahms 8 Pieces For Piano, op. 76 - Anyone Find It Insubtantial?

    This is really for Brahms and piano mavens. Anyone else find op.76 - there's no other way to put it - beneath Brahms?

    If there was anything true about Brahms, it was that he was ultra careful about what he decided to keep, publish, and give to the world, and what he didn't. As every strutting, upright ape knows, Brahms delayed the performance and publication of his First for decades; he re-cast and re-wrote what ended up as his Piano Con #1 many times. The same pattern appeared for the first string quartet, and so many other of his masterful compositions.

    But, it wasn't merely a question of delay and revision. Brahms thought deeply about his music; deliberating, exploring all possible permutations and implications of the material, much as Beethoven worked until a piece was as good as the composer could possibly make it.

    Yet, op. 76 seems to be of a much lower level of inspiration. The second thru the forth pieces sound so mediocre; certainly not up to the melodic standard that's always typical of a master at Brahms's level. Those particular pieces almost sound like something by Alkan - low quality, with quirkiness attempting to mask the incompetance.

    Whatever your opinion, I think it's safe to say that if op. 76 had someone else's name one them - say Bruch or Raff or Rheinberger, most listeners wouldn't give them a second glance. I think that it's only Brahms's name on them that affords them the attention that they get.

    What do you think? Am I wrong? Can you point out what I should pay attention to in these pieces, or what's particularly of value about them? Hoping you'll change my mind.

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    Do you like op 79 more?

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    I couldn't tell you anything about them right now, but I have heard varying levels of performance quality on them. The performance by Vasary, while not a masterpiece, is what I would consider "worthy of Brahms."

    The man had close to 200 opus, without opus, and Anh. pieces. They are not all going to be of equal inspiration or connection to the listener, even if Brahms liked them all well enough not to destroy.

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    It's years ago since I last thought about op 76 performance, but I remember someone asked for recommendations for op 76, and I replied

    Gieseking (all)

    Rubinstein (Op 76/7)

    Bashkirov (just 2)

    Pogorelich (strange and beautiful)

    I also said that it was best to avoid Heinrich Neuhaus because what he does is too fast and too hard-toned. I'm listening to his recording now and I tend to agree with my former self. I didn't like Gould at the time either.

    Since then I've made one discovery, which I now think is really exceptional - Hardy Rittner.

    As to the quality of the music, I really can't comment with any authority -- in my naive way it seems no worse than other things Brahms was up to at the time with short instrumental forms.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-23-2018 at 19:59.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Perhaps they do pale in comparison to the four sets of pieces from c. fifteen years later but I find them an agreeable precursor nonetheless.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

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    Cool

    Performances can widely vary; they don’t just stand on their own. Someone has to play them. But no… I consider these very high-quality works with some of them being more lighthearted than heavy and serious, though some are perhaps not as melodically memorable as his Op. 116 - 119. I greatly enjoyed the Op. 76 by Julius Katchen. These works can be quite enjoyable in the right hands.

    If there were a different name on them, no one would give them a chance? That’s unprovable and I wish people wouldn’t offer such a speculation as proof of anything, because Brahms wrote many great works before and after Op. 76 that demonstrated his high standards of composition.

    Theodor Billroth, a close friend of Brahms, was enthusiastic about the new works: “These are magnificent pieces, beautiful and interesting to play. They lie so well under the hand for those who are a little used to Schumann’s and Chopin’s technique that it is a pleasure to practise them.” So these works have had their share of admirers over the years, including of course Arthur Rubinstein. To appreciate or understand them better, I would explore other performances than what you’ve heard, or just move on to other works. According to the composer, they passed muster or they never would have been published.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; May-23-2018 at 20:49.
    Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. —Ray Bradbury

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    And I forgot the special three op 76 pieces from Volodos here, this is a recording all people interested in modern piano performance of 19th century music should hear I think, even though ultimately I reject his conception of the music.

    719sagVx27L._SY355_.jpg
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-23-2018 at 20:14.

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    And here's a good one


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    I love LOVE op.79.

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    I find Brahms' Op. 76 set reminiscent of Schumann in parts, as it's an unusually mercurial set of piano pieces. There's a wide range of shifting moods, & seemingly disparate stylistic influences, and as with Schumann, I find it all rather episodic and highly inventive. I expect it takes a first rate pianist to be able to make sense of this music--that is, if all 8 pieces are played together (which isn't always the case--as many notable pianists only play parts of the set).

    Sviatoslav Richter in his prime would have been exceptional in this music, as Richter was at his best in mercurial music that required an intense concentration in the moment. But I don't recall Richter ever playing the whole Op. 76 set. He did, however, play the final Capriccio No. 8, Op. 76--many times, and was remarkable in this rhythmically complex piece:



    I don't recall that Arthur Rubinstein played the entire Op. 76 set either, nor Wilhelm Backhaus, who played only Nos. 2, 7, & 8, and with surprisingly quick tempi, if memory serves. Other notable Brahms pianists that have avoided the Op. 76 set, include Emil Gilels, Rudolf Serkin, Agustin Anievas, and Bruno-Leonardo Gelber. (I also wish that one of my favorite Brahms pianists, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, had recorded more Brahms--including Op. 76--considering how remarkable his 4 Ballades are.)

    Mandryka mentions Dmitri Bashkirov, and I agree. I have an early Bashkirov Brahms CD on Harmonia Mundi, where he plays Op. 76/2 and Op. 76/3, and it's among the finest Brahms playing I've ever heard:

    https://www.amazon.com/Bashkirov-Pla.../dp/B002S3TAJY

    I can't find Bashkirov playing those Op. 76 pieces on You Tube, but if anyone is interested to hear his Brahms, here he is playing the Intermezzo No. 6, Op. 118 from the same album, and I think you'll agree, it's exceptional playing:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmc7...c7fdNslPQ&t=30

    Like Lark, I also think highly of Julius Katchen in the Op. 76 pieces, and would probably consider it my benchmark set:



    Among historical performances, there's also a brilliant 1916 recording of the Capriccio in B minor, Op.76/2 from Benno Moiseiwitsch, but frustratingly, I don't think Moiseiwitsch ever recorded the whole set (please correct me if I'm wrong):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFWcZnf_DBM

    I seem to keep mentioning pianists that excelled in Schumann & Brahms, yet curiously, for the most part they stayed away from the Op. 76 set, or only played piece or two from it.

    Most recently, Nelson Freire--another remarkable Schumann pianist--has recorded Op. 76 nos. 3 & 4 for a Decca release. Having enjoying Freire's Brahms Piano Concertos 1 & 2 (on Decca), I would imagine his solo Brahms is very fine, but haven't heard it:

    https://www.amazon.com/Nelson-Freire...=brahms+freire

    I also agree with Mandryka's estimation of Ivo Pogorelich--at least in Op. 76 (but I'm not always crazy about the rest of his Brahms). What Pogorelich does with the Capriccio no. 1, Op. 76, is very imaginative and insightful, but quite slow compared to other pianists (especially Gieseking & Bonatta--see below); although, like others, he avoided playing the entire set:



    Therefore, I'd have to say that the best Op. 76 set I've heard in the digital era has been from pianist Dmitri Alexeev, who's tasteful, sensitive, and poetic, but maybe not quite as boldly mercurial and intense as the likes of Richter, Moiseiwitsch, Bashkirov, Gieseking, etc.:



    I've also liked pianist Andrea Bonatta in this music. Bonatta takes more bare-boned, less romantic approach (not dissimilar to Katchen's), which helps to unify the 8 pieces more seamlessly, and he gives an exceptional account. (Of interest, Bonatta wrote a highly regarded book on playing Brahms piano music--see link below--if you read Italian or German, as it has yet to be translated into English):



    https://www.amazon.com/Brahms-Oeuvre...bonatta+brahms
    http://www.andreabonatta.com/ENG/book.htm

    I haven't heard Hardy Rittner's Op. 76 set--which is played on a period piano--but have liked some of his other Brahms.

    Helene Grimaud is another very good Brahms player that has stayed away from the Op. 76 set. Nor is there an Op. 76 from Radu Lupu, or Valery Afanassiev, either--both of whom have played a fair amount of Brahms solo music.

    So yes, it does seem that a good many excellent Brahms pianists have avoided playing the Op. 76 set. I expect that's because it's very difficult music to play well, when all 8 pieces are performed together.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jun-06-2018 at 02:24.

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    Senior Member D Smith's Avatar
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    I have to disagree with the op. I find these pieces highly enjoyable. I just finished listening to Richard Goode's lyrical 1986 recording of all 8 and loved them. (Though I have to remind myself to put these on more and not favour op. 116-119 so much).

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    I love Brahms Op. 76, not insubstantial at all in my view, personally I don't place them far behind op. 116-119. Has anyone mentioned Kempff yet? I think he does quite well with these pieces.

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