THAT MOMENT IN BRAHMS' Alto Rhapsody
Monday 3rd February, 2020
BRAHMS’ Alto Rhapsody
How do you convey desolation in music? And then consolation?
Johann Brahms (1833-1897) was lodging with the late Robert Schumann’s widow Clara and her family in the late 1860’s. Clara’s daughter Julie seems to have become an object of Brahms’ affection (as Clara Schumann had been before her) and when she became engaged to an Italian Count he wrote the Alto Rhapsody for her wedding. The climax of the piece turns out to be a deeply heartfelt – even yearning – expression of tenderness.
Clara wrote in her diary: "Johannes brought me a wonderful piece … the words from Goethe's Harzreise … He called it his bridal song …This piece seems to me neither more nor less than the expression of his own heart's anguish. If only he would for once speak as tenderly!"
The text concerns a man who now hates his fellow humans, because of a failed love: “First scorned, now a scorner,” He lives in a wasteland of egoism and negativity, which is portrayed in the dark minor-key of the first two of the work’s three movements. Here’s the opening ……..
When we arrive at the third movement we find one of music’s great moments of transformation, when the soloist appeals to “the father of love” to “refresh his heart” and convert the man’s frustration and misogyny to love and optimism. The key has changed from C Minor to C Major……..
There are many marvellous recordings of this piece – several on Youtube – but I had to choose the wonderful Janet Baker’s performance:
Alto Rhapsody Janet Baker – sound clip- click on link below:
We can’t wait to welcome back Catherine Wyn-Rogers who will be singing this great work with Three Spires Singers at our concert on March 28th 2020 in Truro Cathedral.
MENDELSSOHN’S Overture to St Paul
Ten years before he completed his much more famous Elijah, Mendelssohn had composed another oratorio recounting, this time, a Bible story from the New rather than Old Testament – it’s based on the life and conversion of St Paul. Composing consciously in the traditions of Bach and Handel, but with great new ideas about entertaining his Victorian audiences, Mendelssohn starts the work by quoting J.S.Bach’s “Wachet auf” (“Sleepers, awake”) theme.
It’s a strong, familiar tune: listen to the way he develops the Bachian chorale and its fugal complications, with a wholly un-Bachian orchestral colourfulness and excitement:
Spires Singers and Orchestra
7:30pm Saturday 28 March 2020 Truro Cathedral
Notes by Simon Price