London Symphony Orchestra - Neeme Jarvi
originally for piano, four hands
Recorded in: St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London 11-13 July 1988 and 13 October 1989
Producer(s): Brian Couzens
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Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dances, WoO 1
By the time Brahms came to write the dances recorded here, the use of popular 'Hungarian' tunes and styles was already a time-honoured spice, as evidenced by the works of many composers both great and small. Among the former may be found Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25 in G major, Piano Concerto in D major), Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, finale), Schubert (Divertissement a l'hongroise, D 818, Impromptu in F minor, D 935 No. 4, the Hungarian Melody, D 817) and, most notably of all, Franz Liszt, whose famous Hungarian Rhapsodies were a selfconsciously patriotic celebration of his native land. It remained for such twentieth-century scholar-composers as Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly to demonstrate that all of these masters (Brahms included) were deluded in their belief that they had helped to enshrine the indigenous musical culture of Hungary. The source of their inspiration, as Bartok and Kodaly were at pains to point out, had little or nothing to do with the Hungarian peasantry, but lay with the urban, notated and highly commercialised music of the Hungarian gypsies (though this, of course, has no bearing on the artistic value of the works in question). Traces of the gypsy style play an important, and by no means cheapening, role in a number of Brahms's most important productions. The influence is acknowledged by the composer in the present dances, in the finale of his G minor Piano Quartet and most conspicuously in the Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs) of 1887-88, but it plays an important part, too, in such outwardly unexotic works as the two Piano Concertos, the Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto for violin and cello, the A major string Serenade, the G major String Quintet and a number of songs.
As in the case of the Slavonic Dances by his protege Dvorak, the Hungarian Dances brought Brahms almost overnight to the notice of a wide public who were seldom to extend a similar welcome to his other, more serious works. Although designed at first for domestic use by largely amateur pianists whose capabilities were up to the sometimes considerable demands made in these works,the Hungarian Dances have achieved their greatest popularity in orchestral arrangements for the concert hall. Nor have they yet lost their appeal for composer-transcribers (witness the comparatively recent 'chamber-style' arrangements by the Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas).
The works owe their original inspiration to Brahms's short-lived partnership with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, and were first issued as a four-part collection of piano duets (Books I and II appearing in 1869, Books III and IV following on a decade or so later, in 1880). It was through Remenyi, with whom he toured northern Germany in 1853, that the twenty-year-old Brahms first encountered the music of the gypsies, and it was in the capacity of 'arranger' that he issued Books I and II, only to be met by a storm of controversy in which a number of very minor composers, Remenyi among them, accused him of pirating their tunes. It seems that many of the melodies are indeed attributable to such unhousehold names as Sarkozy (No. 1), Windt (No. 2), Riszner (Nos 3 and 10), Merty (No. 4), Keler-Bela (No. 5), Nittinger (No. 6) and Frank (No. 8) - though that Brahms knew any of this seems unlikely. As he accompanied Remenyi by ear, it is entirely possible that he never saw any of these melodies in print.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it is the masterly settings rather than the tunes themselves that account for the works' popularity, both in and out of the concert hall. Brahms's great love and understanding of counterpoint is evident in many of these dances, most notably, perhaps, in Nos 14 and 17. Had the tunes been left to the mercies of Remenyi and his ilk they would in all likelihood have been forgotten long ago. When publishing Books III and IV, however, Brahms emphasised that these included wholly original compositions, though he neglected to identify them, even to his most intimate friends and colleagues. Joseph Joachim, who knew Brahms, musically, better than anyone (and knew these dances in particular, all of which he arranged for violin and piano), surmised that these must be Nos 11, 14 and 16.
Of the present orchestrations, Nos 1, 3 and 10 are by Brahms himself and Nos 17-21 by Dvorak, the remainder being the work of Albert Parlow (Nos 5, 6 and 11-16), Andreas Hallen (Nos 2 and 7), Hans Gal (Nos 8 and 9) and Paul Juon (No. 4).
- Jeremy Siepmann
In 1904 Hans Richter conducted the inaugural concert given by the London Symphony Orchestra, the first independent, self-governing orchestra in Britain. Many distinguished Principal Conductors followed, such as Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Thomas Beecham, Claudio Abbado and Sir Colin Davis. Eminent musical figures who have taken on the role of Honorary President include Sir William Walton, Sir Arthur Bliss, Karl Bohm and Leonard Bernstein. In 1906 it became the first British orchestra to perform abroad when it visited Paris, and today the Orchestra tours extensively around the globe. In 1982 the LSO moved into its London home at the Barbican, where it gives around ninety concerts a year; it also holds a residency at New York's Avery Fisher Hall and a biennial residency at the Florida International Festival. The Orchestra's innovative education programme, LSO Discovery, is dedicated to bringing music to people of every age and from all walks of life, wherever they are.
Neeme Jarvi is Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra since 1982, First Principal Guest Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Conductor Laureate of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Born in Tallinn, Estonia, he is one of today's busiest conductors, making frequent guest appearances with the foremost orchestras and opera companies of the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera national de Paris-Bastille and the major orchestras of Scandinavia. He also directs a conductors' masterclass in Parnu, Estonia, for two weeks each July. Neeme Jarvi has amassed a distinguished discography of more than 350 discs, and many accolades and awards have been bestowed on him worldwide. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the University of Michigan, and has been appointed Commander of the Order of the North Star by the King of Sweden.