Brahms’ vivacious Two Rhapsodies Op.79 of 1879 are among his most frequently performed and popular concert works.
The Rhapsody in G minor Op.79 No.2 is also a mainstay of the ABRSM piano diploma syllabus, where its gorgeous sweeping melody line makes it a popular choice with players.
Inevitably there are several printed scores on the market; ABRSM naturally promote their own, while many performers have tended to opt for the Henle Urtext edition.
Now Brahms expert Christian Köhn is presenting these popular pieces in an up-to-date new edition that remains faithful to the sources and reflects scholars’ latest findings. And according to publishers Bärenreiter,
“In addition to the informative Preface the edition offers enlightening details regarding performance practice of Brahms’ day. With a reader-friendly engraving, comfortable page turns including a fold-out page and fingering where required, the edition meets all the needs of today’s performers.”
Let’s take a quick look…
Two Rhapsodies Op.79
Brahms composed his Two Rhapsodies Op.79 in the Summer of 1879, but was slow to share them with his publisher Simrock, confining their distribution to a couple of friends; notably Clara Schumann in early July, to whom he wrote:
“Enclosed are two piano pieces on which you can let off steam if they please you passably…”
Clara’s somewhat curt response:
“I must first study the two pieces. I think, for me, it will be like most of the other piano pieces, which I only gradually became fond of.”
Brahms continued to perform the pieces that Autumn, but still didn’t submit them to Simrock until the latter asked for them on 19th December, by which point there was already public demand for the scores.
Jeremy Siepmann beautifully describes the Rhapsodies thus:
“If his early Sonatas were ‘veiled symphonies’ (as Schumann described them), these large-scale though highly sectional pieces might equally be seen as veiled overtures. Seldom is Brahms’s piano writing more orchestral in character…
“Despite the expressive abandon suggested by their title, both works are cast in a modified sonata-form and speak a language of the utmost seriousness. At the same time, particularly in the B minor, there is a sweetness and poignancy of a uniquely Brahmsian cast.”
Decca CD booklet note,
The Bärenreiter Edition
Bärenreiter Urtext editions are always in my experience beyond reproach, and this is again the case here.
The publication appears in Bärenreiter’s typical house style, with a lovely soft cover concealing a gorgeous cream score, all slightly larger than the standard sheet music size.
Within, Christian Köhn’s Preface takes up four pages, first in German, and then in English translation. Köhn covers the expected territory, outlining the work’s genesis and notes on the edition. His structural analysis of the music is interesting if academic, while the previously mentioned page on performance practice is a highly useful and enlightening read.
This brings us to the score itself, which is beautifully presented in a nicely spacious engraving.
Minimal editorial fingering suggestions are included, and there is plenty of room for the student, teacher or performer to add their own.
And we can assume that the edition itself is authoritative. For those interested in different readings and so on, there is also a detailed critical commentary at the rear of the book.
The question of page turns is in my view a somewhat moot point.
In the first Rhapsody Bärenreiter include a fold-out page so that their first three pages can be displayed together, followed by the next three. Compared alongside the Henle Urtext edition, this saves an initial page turn only; the second set of three pages in Bärenreiter is printed across a two-page spread by Henle, and without the notation feeling cramped. To an extent then, the page turn issue is compounded by the extra spaciousness of Bärenreiter’s engraving.
The downside here is that turning the page of the fold-out is no mean feat, while most will probably manage Henle’s turns without incident. Overall, Henle present the first Rhapsody across nine pages, while Bärenreiter use eleven. In the case of the second Rhapsody, both publishers allow eight pages.
Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies Op.79 are glorious works, essential to the diploma and professional pianist’s repertoire, standing tall at the apex of the late-romantic style with their ripe harmonies, grand gestures and sonic power.
There’s presently no better edition to study these great works than this new score from Christian Köhn and Bärenreiter. It’s a must-have for Brahms lovers.
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