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BRAHMS HANDEL VARIATIONS
Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Op 24



The Brahms Handel Variations, based on a theme from Handel's Harpsichord Suite 1 in B major, HWV 434, could be considered the climax of the Young Brahms.  Composed in 1861 when Brahms was 28.  Sir Donald Francis Tovey consided Op 24 to be one of "the half-dozen greatest sets of variations ever written."  And in the words of Brahms' biographer Jan Swafford, the Handel Variations are "perhaps the finest set of piano variations since Beethoven. . . . Besides a masterful unfolding of ideas concluding with an exuberant fugue with a finish designed to bring down the house, the work is quintessentially Brahms in other ways: the filler of traditional forms with fresh energy and imagination; the historical eclectic able to start off with a gallant little tune of Handel's, Baroque ornaments and all, and integrate it seamlessly into his own voice, in a work of massive scope and dazzling variety." [Johannes Brahms: A Biography, Vintage Books, 1999, p. 228]

The Brahms Handel Variations consists of a theme, 25 variations, and a fugue.  Brahms had already composed a number of fine sets of variations beginning with those in the slow movement of the C major piano sonata, Op 1.  But he felt the Op 24 set was his finest work to that point.  It was dedicated to Clara Schumann.

There are several performances I should like to point out.  Petri's exuberant reading of this score is supple and splendidly played. Solomon's long, long lines give exquisite shape to each variation creating a beautiful forest without ignoring the importance of a single tree.  Grigory Sokolov's 2012 Zurich account is a sensitive reading, devoid of the pounding one hears from Oppitz, Norton and others, which is not to say that he does not play forcefully when required.  Nikolai Petrov gives loving attention to every note of this music.  Schiøler, Cherkassky (1986) and Richter are just plain gorgeous, different as they are.  And Moiseiwitsch is  my favorite of the lot. 

NO, that was yesterday when I began this project.  Today it is Cherkassky, and tomorrow it will be another.  The fact is, I like so many of these performances.  Arrau and Kolessa and Gelber also deserve special mention for their performances of the Brahms Handel Variations, as do others.

There are three fabulous performances by pianists who were new to me that must also be heard.  Those by the apparently near legendary Richard Farrell, by Velichka Savova who was a pupil of Godowsky and Busoni, and by Gisèle Magnan whose Brahms at least, for that's all I've heard her play, should be legendary.  Magnan"s performance is on another plane, very different from the rest.  She has a vision of another Brahms, a young, exciting Brahms, which I find immensely appealing, and right.

In several cases, when available, I have included more than one performance by the same pianist.  I find it interesting to hear how a pianist evolves over time, or play the same piece so differently in the same season or year.  Change of mind, or just a bad day?

Due to the number of available recording, I have distributed them among three pages.  This page offers performances by pianists born from 1881 to 1909. To access the other pages click on the following links:

Brahms Handel Variations II [pianists born from 1914 to 1944)
Brahms Handel Variations III [pianists born from 1944 to 1992)



EGON PETRI (1881-1961)
German-born Dutch pianist

recorded in 1938




BENNO MOISEIWITSCH (1890-1963)
Ukrainian-born British pianist


Aria - Var XII



Var XIII - XXV



Fugue




YVES NAT (1890-1956)
French pianist

recorded in 1955




WILHELM KEMPFF (1895-1991)
German pianist




MARIA YUDINA (1899-1970)
Soviet pianist

recorded in 1948


Part I



Part II




VICTOR SCHIOLER (1899-1967)
Danish pianist

recorded in 1951


Part I



Part II




VELICHKA SAVOVA [Wella Sawowa] (1899-1991)
Bulgarian pianist


Part I (Theme and variations)



Part II (Fugue)
and
Chopin  Scherzo 3 in C minor




FRIEDRICH WÜHRER (1900-1975)
Austrian-German pianist

recorded in 1961 [followed by Brahms Intermezzi, Op 117]




LUBKA KOLESSA (1902-1997)
Ukranian pianist

recorded ca 1949




SOLOMON CUTNER (1902-1988)
British pianist

recorded in 1942




CLAUDIO ARRAU (1903-1991)
Chilean pianist

recorded live in 1963




RUDOLF SERKIN (1903-1991)
Bohemian-born pianist

recorded live in 1957


Part I



Part II




SASCHA GORODNITZKY (1904-1986)
American pianist




EUNICE NORTON (1908-2005)
American pianist


recorded in 1951



recorded in 1980



recorded in 1984




SHURA CHERKASSKY (1909-1995)
American pianist

recorded ca1986










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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