Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel Op. 24 (1861)
4 Klavierstücke Op. 119 (1893) Intermezzo in B minor,Intermezzo in E minor ,Intermezzo in C ,Rhapsody in E flat.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B flat D960 (1828) I. Molto moderato II. Andante sostenuto III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace con delicatezza – Trio IV. Allegro ma non troppo
Samson Tsoy opening his recital with the Brahms Handel Variations followed by the four Klavierstucke op 119. Even the hall thought it must be a mistake and had to make an announcement to confirm the order that Samson had obviously communicated previously. A very bold move until we heard this early Brahms masterpiece in Samson’s hands played with such sensitivity and gentle luminosity where usually we are assaulted by robust ‘orchestral’ sound and strenuous virtuosity. This was quite a revelation as he moved from one variation to another with ravishingly delicate playing of exquisite tonal colour.There was grandeur and dynamism when called for but the overall impression was that this is the same ethereal world of his later miniature masterpieces of op 117,18 and 19. Schubert’s last Sonata was played with gentle authority of great aristocratic poise and poignancy. Momentary flashes of ‘storm und drang’were short lived as Schubert’s profoundest of utterings were given all the time needed to ravish and seduce the senses for the last time. The Impromptu in E flat played as an encore produced streams of sounds of pure gold as the jeux perlé notes were shaped with the same sensitivity and loving care that had been the hallmark of a recital dedicated to pure beautiful music making.An ovation,whistles and cat calls were greeted at last with a smile from this very dedicated young artist.
The Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, was written by in 1861. It consists of a set of twenty-five variations and a concluding fugue, based on a theme from Handel’s Harpsichord suite N.1 in B flat .Ranked by Tovey as “the half-dozen greatest sets of variations ever written”.They were written in September 1861 after Brahms, aged 28, abandoned the work he had been doing as director of the Hamburg women’s choir (Frauenchor) and moved out of his family’s cramped and shabby apartments in Hamburg to his own apartment in the quiet suburb of Hamm, initiating a highly productive period that produced “a series of early masterworks”.Written in a single stretch in September 1861,the work is dedicated to a “beloved friend”, Clara Schumann widow of Robert and was presented to her on her 42nd birthday, September 13.Brahms played the piece himself in his first solo performance in Vienna – even Wagner had to admit how much could still be done in the ‘old forms’. Brahms’s approach to variation writing is outlined in a number of letters. “In a theme for a set of variations, it is almost only the bass that has any meaning for me. But this is sacred to me, it is the firm foundation on which I then build my stories. What I do with a melody is only playing around … If I vary only the melody, then I cannot easily be more than clever or graceful, or, indeed, if full of feeling, deepen a pretty thought. On the given bass, I invent something actually new, I discover new melodies in it, I create.” The role of the bass is critical.
The last three sets of piano pieces, Op.117, 118 and 119, are linked by a certain personal intimacy, almost a secrecy of meaning. Brahms called the three pieces of Op. 117 ‘lullabies to my sorrows’, The pianist Ilona Eibenschütz on hearing Brahms wrote: ‘He played as if he were just improvising, with heart and soul, sometimes humming to himself, forgetting everything around him.’Fanny Davies wrote: ‘When Brahms played, one knew exactly what he intended to convey to his listeners: aspiration, wild fantastic flights, majestic calm, deep tenderness without sentimentality, delicate, wayward humour, sincerity, noble passion’.
Schubert’s last three piano sonatas D 958, 959 and 960, are his last major compositions for solo piano. They were written during the last months of his life, between the spring and autumn of 1828, but were not published until about ten years after his death, in 1838–39.Like the rest of Schubert’s piano sonatas, they were mostly neglected in the 19th century.By the late 20th century, however, public and critical opinion had changed, and these sonatas are now considered among the most important of the composer’s mature masterpieces.
The last year of Schubert’s life was marked by growing public acclaim for the composer’s works, but also by the gradual deterioration of his health. On March 26, 1828, together with other musicians in Vienna ,Schubert gave a public concert of his own works, which was a great success and earned him a considerable profit. In addition, two new German publishers took an interest in his works, leading to a short period of financial well-being. However, by the time the summer months arrived, Schubert was again short of money and had to cancel some journeys he had previously planned.Schubert had been struggling with syphilis since 1822–23, and suffered from weakness, headaches and dizziness. However, he seems to have led a relatively normal life until September 1828, when new symptoms appeared. At this stage he moved from the Vienna home of his friend Franz von Schober to his brother Ferdinand’s house in the suburbs, following the advice of his doctor; unfortunately, this may have actually worsened his condition. However, up until the last weeks of his life in November 1828, he continued to compose an extraordinary amount of music, including such masterpieces as the three last sonatas.The final sonata was completed on September 26, and two days later, Schubert played from the sonata trilogy at an evening gathering in Vienna.In a letter to Probst (one of his publishers), dated October 2, 1828, Schubert mentioned the sonatas amongst other works he had recently completed and wished to publish.However, Probst was not interested in the sonatas,and by November 19, Schubert was dead.In the following year, Schubert’s brother Ferdinand sold the sonatas’ to another publisher, Anton Diabelli , who would only publish them about ten years later, in 1838 or 1839.Schubert had intended the sonatas to be dedicated to Hummel, whom he greatly admired. Hummel was a leading pianist, a pupil of Mozart, and a pioneering composer of the Romantic style (like Schubert himself).However, by the time the sonatas were published in 1839, Hummel was dead, and Diabelli, the new publisher, decided to dedicate them instead to Robert Schumann,who had praised many of Schubert’s works in his critical writings.