Brahms Hungarian dance No. 5 (violin and piano): Two very different interpretations

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Johannes Brahms was a German Romantic composer and pianist. He was one of the greatest composers of the 19th Century. Brahms composed music for solo piano, 4 symphonies, chamber music, organ chorale preludes, violin and viola sonatas, and many other works. His first compositions were for the pipe organ. Brahms final compositions were a collection of chorale preludes for the organ. He is most well known for his 21 Hungarian Dances which he originally wrote for orchestra but later arranged for solo piano and four hand duet. Joseph Joachim (a famous violin virtuoso friend of his) later arranged the Hungarian Dances for violin and piano.

Brahms began his music career playing the piano in the red light district of Hamburg, Germany (where he was born.) He had dreams of being an organ virtuoso but discovered early on that the organ is a much harder instrument to master than the piano. Brahms abandoned any dreams of becoming an organ virtuoso and became a piano virtuoso instead.

Here are two very different performances of the Hungarian Dance No. 5 for violin and piano. The first recording of the piece is by classical violinist Aaron Rosand and pianist Hugh Sung. The second recording is a live performance done in a radio station studio by Hungarian Gypsy violinist Roby Lakatos and pianist Frantisek Janoska. Roby and Frantisek play the piece in a fiery Hungarian Gypsy style. I will leave it up to you to decide which performance you prefer more. Enjoy.

Claude Debussy – Clair de Lune (a comparison between the composer’s interpretation and another pianist)

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Claude Debussy was a French composer and pianist. He developed an original system of harmony and musical structure. Debussy’s music has often been referred to as impressionistic (although the composer disliked the term impressionism.) Debussy’s most famous compositions include: Clair de Lune, La fille aux cheveux de lin, The Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun, La Mer, and his opera Pelléas et Mélisande.

Here are two recordings of Claude Debussy’s piece Clair de Lune. The first recording was made by Claude Debussy himself in 1913 on a piano roll. The sound quality is so good it sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday. The second recording was from a live performance in 1956 by the celebrated interpreter of Debussy’s piano music, Walter Gieseking. Ironically the sound quality in the second recording done by Gieseking is not as good as the sound quality on the piano roll recording. I won’t say any more about the performances featured in this post as I want people to listen to both performances and come to their own conclusions as to which performance they like best. Enjoy.

Ernesto Nazareth: Carioca (Brazilian Tango) played by Arthur Moreira Lima (piano)

Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934)

Ernesto Nazareth was a Brazilian composer and pianist. He is one of Brazil’s most popular composers. Nazareth composed Brazilian tangos, waltzes, polkas, and choros (a popular type of instrumental music that was invented in Rio de Janiero in the 19th Century.) Nazareth had a gift for composing beautiful melodies. His best dance music has an infectious rhythmic drive that makes you want to get up and dance.

Arthur Moreira Lima (1940 -)

Arthur Moreira Lima is a Brazilian classical pianist. In 1965 Arthur won second prize in the International Chopin Competition. He also won the audience prize and a prize for the best sonata performance. He also won prizes in two other major piano competitions: third prize at the 1969 Leeds International Piano Competition, and third prize in the 1970 International Tchaikovsky Competition. He has recorded the complete piano music of Chopin, Nazareth, and Cunha. In this post, Arthur Moreira Lima plays Ernesto Nazareth’s Brazilian Tango called Carioca.

J. C. Bach Sonata for Keyboard with Gamba Accompaniment – Michael Jarvis: Fortepiano; Sam Stadlen: Gamba

J. C. Bach (1735-1782)

Johann Christian Bach, the youngest of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons, was an 18th Century German composer. He worked for a while in Italy and then moved to London, England in 1762. He became known as the “London Bach,” and also the “English Bach.” Bach composed cantatas, chamber music, keyboard music, symphonies, and operas. He had a great musical career first as a composer, and then as a performing musician. Johann often performed with Carl Friedrich Abel who was a viola da gamba virtuoso. The viola da gamba was a bowed stringed instrument (held between the legs while played) that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th Centuries.

Here is a sonata by J.C. Bach for Keyboard with Gamba accompaniment. The keyboard instrument is a fortepiano (a copy of an early piano). The sonata is played by Michael Jarvis (Fortepiano) and Sam Stadlen (Gamba). This performance was recorded just before Sam Stadlen’s tour across Canada was cut short by the coronavirus.

Michael Jarvis (1958-2020)

Michael Jarvis was one of Canada’s finest harpsichordists, fortepianists, and organists. He performed with many of Canada’s leading orchestras and chamber ensembles all over Canada. Michael had a knack for finding rare but beautiful music and did many performances and recordings with colleagues that featured lesser known composers and their music.

Sam Stadlen

Sam Stadlen is a viol player, cellist, lecturer, and musicologist from the U.K. He has performed all over Europe, the United States, Canada, and South America. In 2015 Sam became a member of the internationally known early music stringed instrument ensemble Fretwork.

Helmut Walcha – Christmas Chorale Preludes

Helmut Walcha (1907-1991)

Helmut Walcha was a blind German organist, harpsichordist, and composer who played the works of Dutch and German Baroque masters. He is best known for his recordings of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach. Walcha learned music by hearing his wife or someone else play the notes. He then memorized what he heard and worked on it until he could play it and sing each part. He taught his students that to truly know music you have to be able to not only play it but also sing it.

Helmut Walcha composed and published 4 volumes of chorale preludes for the organ (and arrangements of orchestral pieces or organ pieces.) Here is a recording of two Christmas chorale preludes by Helmut Walcha:

Zu Bethlehem geboren (Born in Bethlehem), and Den die Hirten lobten sehre (Whom the Shepherds Praised Dearly) played by organist Wolfgang Rübsam.

Dieterich Buxtehude – Prelude in C Major (BuxWV 138): Harald Vogel, Organ

Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

Dieterich Buxtehude was a Danish-German Baroque composer and organist. He composed a wide variety of vocal music and instrumental music. Today he is best known for his organ music (which is a major part of the standard organ repertoire.) Buxtehude’s style of composition influenced many composers (especially Johann Sebastian Bach.) Bach famously travelled about 250 miles to learn from Buxtehude and to hear him play.

Buxtehude composed chorale preludes based on German hymn tunes for the church. He also composed organ preludes written in the form of fugues (and it is for these organ preludes that he is best known.) Buxtehude’s organ preludes are the pinnacle of the North German style of organ composition during his time. They are composed in what is known as stylus phantasticus (a style of composition that sounds like an improvisation and is characterized by short contrasting episodes and a free form.)

Harald Vogel – organist (1941 -)

Harald Vogel is a German organist, author, and expert on Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music (especially North German Baroque music and North German Baroque pipe organs.) In 1983 Harald Vogel recorded the complete organ works of Dieterich Buxtehude. Here is a recording of Buxtehude’s Prelude in C Major (BuxWV 138). I hope that you enjoy listening to it.

Scott Joplin – Pine Apple Rag (Itzhak Perlman, Violin; André Previn, Piano)

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. He became famous during his lifetime for playing a style of music called Ragtime, and for the many Rags he composed for the piano. Among his most famous rags are the Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, Rag-Time Dance, The Easy Winners, and Elite Syncopations. Joplin quickly became known as the “King of Ragtime”. Most of the compositions he wrote were Rags for the piano. However, toward the end of his life, Scott Joplin was working on a Ragtime opera called Treemonisha. The opera was never fully staged during his life. In 1916 Joplin got dementia which was the result of him catching syphilis. Scott Joplin died in 1917 (when he was 48 years old). His death was barely noticed because there were more pressing events going on during that time such as the entry of the United States into World War I.

In 1975 violinist Itzhak Perlman and jazz pianist André Previn teamed up together to record several of Perlman’s violin/piano arrangements of Scott Joplin rags. Scott Joplin’s music was all the rage at the time (the film Sting which featured Joplin’s music was released in 1973). The Perlman/Previn album (The Easy Winners) became a huge hit and the album along with sheetmusic of the arrangements is still popular so many years after it was recorded.

Here is Perlman and Previn playing Scott Joplin’s Pine Apple Rag from their 1975 album ‘The Easy Winners’.

Jonas Kaufmann – Wien Wien, nur du allein

Wien Wien nur du allein (also known as Wien du Stadt meiner Träume) is a popular song composed by Rudolf Sieczyński (1879-1952), an Austrian composer of Polish ancestry. He is well known today for this nostalgic song about Vienna. The song has been recorded by many famous singers including Jonas Kaufmann, Fritz Wunderlich, the 3 Tenors, and Birgit Nilsson.

Jonas Kaufmann (1969 – )

Jonas Kaufmann is an operatic tenor. Kaufmann began his career singing for the Berlin State Opera in 1992 while he was still a student. Since 2008 Jonas Kaufmann has toured in many countries around the world. He is one of the most sought after tenors on the operatic music scene today, and is well known for the versatility of his repertoire. Here he sings Wien Wien, nur du allein in a gentle, non-operatic, but very expressive way.

Daniel Barenboim plays Tango Adios Muchachos

Daniel Barenboim (1942- )

Daniel Barenboim is a pianist and conductor. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has performed all over the world in piano recitals and as piano soloist with many of the world’s great orchestras. Barenboim has been musical director of many orchestras including the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, and the Orchestra of Paris.

In this video clip, Daniel Barenboim performs Julio César Sanders tango Adios Muchachos (Goodbye Boys) in a tango bar called La Cumparsita. He really puts a lot of emotion into this performance. The crowd loves it.

Ivry Gitlis plays Saint-Saens Rondo Capriccioso (this is compared with a performance by Itzhak Perlman)

Ivry Gitlis (1922- )

Ivry Gitlis is an Israeli violin virtuoso.  He has had a long and varied career performing with many of the world’s major orchestras (such as the London Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, and the Vienna Philharmonic.)  Ivry also played with the Beatles in the Rock and Roll Circus film.  He is also an actor and composer.  He moved to the US in the 1950s.  Since the 1960s he has lived in Paris, France.  Ivry Gitlis style of playing is very different from violinists of today.  He occasionally plays without vibrato, and he uses the bow to get different tonal colours out of the violin.  Sometimes the playing is lush, at other times it has a frantic energy to it.

Here is a clip from 1962 of Ivry Gitlis and Georges Pludermacher playing Saint-Saens Rondo Capriccioso.  He plays this piece unlike any other violinist I have heard.  There is incredible energy and abandon in this performance.

For comparison, listen to this performance of Itzhak Perlman and the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.  Perlman’s interpretation is quite a bit slower than Gitlis.  Gitlis really goes for it.  Enjoy