Brahms’s early thoughts

11th March 2013 | Concerts, Inspirations, Teaching | 1 comment

Yesterday I gave some coaching to the Minerva Piano Trio, who had brought the first version of Brahms’s B major Trio opus 8. He composed it around 1853-54, at the time when he first got to know the Schumanns, Clara and Robert. It’s well known that he became very close to the Schumann family, and for years there has been speculation about how close his relationship with Clara became after Robert’s death. Around 35 years later he gave the B major Trio the most radical revision of any of his works, and it is that later version which is almost always played today.

I was rather ashamed to find that I hardly knew the earlier version. My interest in it was driven out by a very poor performance I heard some years ago, which led me to conclude (wrongly) that it was not worth further investigation.

However, yesterday a good performance revealed many lovely things in the score, and even the weaknesses seemed rather touching. The musicians explained that Brahms had incorporated several references to unrequited love in his early version. For instance, there are long quotes from Beethoven’s song cycle ‘An die ferne Geliebte’ (‘to the distant beloved’) and from one of Schubert’s late songs about unrequited love. These were in fact some of the most striking passages. But they were completely cut from the later version, as though the older Brahms wanted to remove any clues to his youthful feelings about Clara.

One of the performers told me that although the later version is the famous one, the one we all have in our ears, he finds that if a bit of the Trio comes to mind in a quiet moment, it is usually something from the youthful version.


1 Comment

  1. Mary

    How interesting that players (and listeners)can link into different emotional states along the timeline of a composer’s life through different workings of the same initial idea.


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