By Gabriel Prynn, cellist
Brahms in a new light
Johannes Brahms composed little in the last years of his life, although his late compositions, largely devoted to chamber music involving clarinet, are some of his most profound and lasting contributions to the repertoire.
Brahms’s Chorale Preludes for organ are deeply spiritual pieces. They can be seen as Brahms’s final thoughts as he prepares to take leave of this life.
We often associate Brahms with his grand symphonic works, but it could be argued that it is in his more intimate compositions we really get to know his inner world.
We are very grateful to our good friend in Berlin, Daniel Göritz, who has transcribed Brahms’s Chorale Preludes for piano trio. We feel that Brahms`s contrapuntal mastery is revealed even more vividly in this new transcription, thanks to the conversation between the three instruments of the piano trio.
Richard Strauss’s primary contribution to the history of music is surely in the domain of the symphonic tone poem, in which he employs massive instrumental forces.
The heyday of the symphonic poem lasted from about 1850 to about 1920, the period we are concerned with here: a time when we see the most concentrated manifestations of program music, that is to say telling a story through tones.
The symphonic poem has its roots in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, leading on to Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn, all still very often performed today.
One of Strauss’s notable contributions to the genre is Don Quixote for cello and orchestra, a musical recreation of the story told by the renaissance Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (the Shakespeare of the Spanish world one could say).
At first glance, the story of Don Quixote is very comical: a seemingly senile, aged knight charges around the land having impossible adventures, with his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza in tow. However, as surprising as it may seem, a deeper reading of the story has led many great thinkers to make comparisons between Don Quixote and Jesus Christ. In fact, Kierkegaard, generally considered the first existentialist philosopher (and a Christian), was the first major figure to make such a comparison, highlighting the power of the moral and inspirational message behind the Don Quixote story. Why? Well who is Don Quixote in fact? An aging aristocrat gone mad, or an old knight who sees that humanity has lost its way, has forgotten the sacred values of honor, bravery and justice?
Like Jesus, Don Quixote hopes to bring moral and spiritual sense to the world once again. For this reason, it seems an appropriate work to include on our Christmas program.
The Finale from Don Quixote, which will feature here, is the last scene of Strauss’s work and will be presented in an arrangement for cello and piano. As the dying Don Quixote prepares to make his ultimate journey to the life beyond, he thinks back on the exploits of his youth, his dreams and hopes. Like so many composers throughout history, Strauss has chosen to write a long vocalise for the cello to evoke this final prayer.
Rich harmonies and luminous sonorities fill the space around us, accompanying Don Quixote into eternity.