Klarinet Archive - Posting 000652.txt from 2000/09
From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: Re: [kl] more about Brahms
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 17:51:59 -0400
On Thu, 21 Sep 2000 15:31:20 -0500, el2@-----.edu said:
> > The "allegro appassionato" puts it beyond my reach, probably for
> > several years at least; but music is a long term pursuit and I may
> > as well start thinking about it.
> Many such instructions in Brahms' scores have to be taken with several
> grains of salt.
Which instructions are you talking about here, Ed?
> Musicians often have been amused at Brahms' notorious use of seemingly
> contradictory character indications. For example, in the symphonies,
> one can read:
> "Un poco allegretto e grazioso" (allegretto, but only a little bit
> so, and gracefully).
> "Allegro non troppo, ma con brio" (fast, but not too much, but with
> "Presto, ma non assai" (very fast, but not too fast)
> And the most confusing one of all:
> "Allegretto grazioso (Quasi Andantino)" (moderately fast, but like a
> moderately slow tempo)
Well, I don't find these *contradictory*. They're attempts to capture
something that falls, for Brahms, between two stools, and his concern is
that you don't go definitely for one stool or the other.
I don't know any musicians I'd respect who found that concern 'amusing'.
Of course the most famous example is probably Beethoven's Mass in C:
"Andante con moto assai vivace quasi allegretto ma non troppo".
> However, I would like to mention another passage in the Brahms
> clarinet sonata #1 (F Minor), which to my ears is usually poorly
> played. And, this is in the piano accompaniment rather than the
> clarinet part. In the Schirmer edition, at rehearsal letter D and
> again at letter H, there is a two measure passage for the piano alone
> which is marked in a very confusing way. It is marked forte, legato,
> with a crescendo to another forte. This obviously is impossible, so
> the music has to be interpreted in some way. What is usually done is
> that the entire two measures is played in a kind of nondescript forte,
> and without much expression. On the few occasions when I have heard
> it played really effectively, the pianist begins piano rather than
> forte, and makes a crescendo to the forte at the end of the passage.
> This goes along with the texture, which expands gradually outward over
> the two measures. I really think that Brahms probably intended to
> write piano rather than forte at the beginning of both statements of
> this passage.
> I would like to know if anyone else hears it the same way I do, or if
> there are opposing viewpoints. But, the next time you play this, ask
> the pianist to begin much softer at those two points, so that the
> music seems to begin at almost nothing and expand to a really full
> sound, and see if you like it that way.
I hope that I've identified the passage you mean: it's bars 77/192.
If I've got it right, it's a good example of what I call the 'collision'
between style and specific notation.
So, this is what I think.
If there is a style operating in a piece, it means that the other sorts
of notation, like crescendos, in some way act against the style.
Here, and in Brahms generally, the bar structure is an important part of
This is true even though, in much music of later periods (and even in
the music of Wagner, a lot of which is earlier) the bar structure
*isn't* so important.
Brahms was however interested in maintaining the notion that the first
beat of a bar had more importance than the others, which followed the
standard classical hierarchy. That meant that he could shift and erase
the importance of that first beat by using phrase marks and dynamic
marks, effectively *moving* the barline to another position.
In the bars you mention, Brahms doesn't want to move the barline,
but he does want to begin a process of explicitly retrograding one of
the fundamental rhythms of the movement (half note followed by quarter
note, or for us, minim followed by crotchet, as in the first clarinet
theme) so that it becomes crotchet plus minim, or for you, quarter note
followed by half note. (That idea is maintained in the clarinet
phrasing in bar 79 and 80, where the phrase marks go, quarter note plus
half note. It's a gesture worth teaching to students.)
As I say, that doesn't move the barline, but it does upset the normal
hierarchy of the bar, which would have the second beat less than the
So the phrase in bar 77 begins forte, and the the crescendo means that
the second bar is more than the first.
This also inverts the 'normal' structure of a two bar phrase. (By the
way, I know that saying 'a normal two bar phrase has the first bar more
than the second' sounds funny to a lot of ears, but it's still true!
Brahms's music gets a lot of its effect by both accepting and subverting
So, how about the 'forte' at the end of the crescendo?
Well, it means, *not quiet*, the way a second beat might normally be in
the standard bar hierarchy of the style, thus achieving the retrograde.
The upshot is that the second bar 'says' "QUARTER note (because of the
crescendo and the barline), HALF note (because of the forte
indication)", and sets the pattern for the subsequent investigation of
that retrograde structure, including the diminution of that structure in
bar 87 (eighth note phrase, quarter note phrase, eighth note phrase,
quarter note phrase).
All of this becomes much more obvious if you're used to playing earlier
classical music in a 'beginning-oriented bar' and
'beginning-oriented phrase' way, as I indicate in my 'Phrasing in
_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist: www.gmn.com
tel/fax 01865 553339
... I'm not cheap, but I am on special this week
Unsubscribe from Klarinet, e-mail: klarinet-unsubscribe@-----.org
Subscribe to the Digest: klarinet-digest-subscribe@-----.org
Additional commands: klarinet-help@-----.org
Other problems: klarinet-owner@-----.org