Johannes of the deaths of his sister Elise

Johannes Brahms was a well-known pianist and leading composer from the Romantic era. He was an accomplished musician from a very early age and worked with many of the leading performers of his time. A traditionalist and an innovator, his popularity and influence were considerable. His works have been an inspiration for a generation of composers including figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. Brahms composed a variety of different works throughout his life including symphonies, concertos, chamber music, piano works and choral compositions. The Six Pieces for Piano, Op.118, was one of Brahms’ last compositions published during his lifetime. Written in the aftermath of the deaths of his sister Elise and his close friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, this is one of Brahms’ darkest piano works. Completed in 1893, the pieces were written for Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. The piano as an instrument at this time had been reshaped and was able to create a much greater sound than previously. The new developments then gave composers opportunities to explore the piano’s expressive potential. Brahms intended the pieces to be performed as a full set as his first Intermezzo in A minor ends on an A major chord, establishing the key and leading the listener in to the second piece. The intermezzo follows a typical ternary form, but with a repeated first section: A A’ – B – A.  The mood of the first section is dark and sinister with the melody being reminiscent of a dies irae, suggesting a topic of death. This melody returns many times during the piece in various forms and disguises. Dissonant harmonies and hushed dynamics depict a melancholy sound throughout the first section. In contrast, section B has a very definite heroic character, with a sense of increased pace. A fanfare theme is evident here with the dynamics escalating in to two fortissimo outbursts of the dies-irae theme. Here, chromatic notes and other dissonances enhance the theme’s tragic quality. When section A returns the death motive is again present, although this time it’s interrupted by a dream like passage. Toccata in E flat minor                                      Khachaturian (1903-1978)Aram Khachaturian, along with Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich was one of the leading composers of the Soviet Union. He is not only the most celebrated musician of his native state of Armenia, but the only Armenian composer to rise to international significance. Khachaturian’s music was highly influenced by the different cultures around him and the composer commented in his 1952 article “I grew up in an atmosphere rich in folk music…these shaped my musical consciousness and lay at the foundations of my artistic personality.” As a young Armenian composer, Khachaturian was caught up in the nationalist spirit of the time, represented most strongly by the Hungarians Bartók and Kodály, who sought to find their national identity and musical style through a study of folk music. Characteristics of Khachaturian’s style include: colourful harmonies, captivating rhythms, virtuosity improvisations and sensuous melodies. The composer is best known internationally for his ballet music, as well as a series of symphonies, concerto’s, and various film scores.Composed in 1932, the Toccata was composed by Khachaturian whilst studying at the Moscow Conservatory under Nikolai Myaskovsky. A favourite amongst piano students, the work was originally written as the first movement of a series of a three – movement suite (Toccata; Waltz – Capriccio; Dance). However, the Toccata became so well known and popular in it’s own right it is now considered a separate piece. The Toccata was first performed and published in Paris in 1932 by then-classmate Lev Oborin. According to the Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin” there is no professional, who would not have it memorised, and who would not cherish the Toccata with heated enthusiasm.”The Toccata’s melodic and rhythmic material are not only traceable to Armenian folk music, but there is also evidence of baroque and contemporary 20th century techniques. From the very beginning of the piece a powerful rhythmic drive establishes the mood. The structure of the piece remains in traditional ternary form (A, B,A’ Coda), although the A sections are expansive and can be further subdivided into smaller sections. These smaller sections are easily recognisable by the use of different motives, texture and scales. Khachaturian also makes use of traditional contrapuntal writing with rhythmic layering. Although the piece includes stark contrasting dynamics and pounding rhythms throughout, the middle section (marked Andante espressivo) provides a distinct contrast to the mood of the beginning. The lyrical and melodic lines here provide a moment of peacefulness in comparison to the dynamic and energetic A section. During the A section reprise, the music touches on previous motifs, ending with the middle sections anguished cry on a fortissimo flourish. 


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