Johannes Brahms: Piano Variations


  • Artist(s): Ali Hireche
  • Composer: Johannes Brahms
  • EAN Code: 7.93611610279
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Piano
  • Period: Romantic
SKU: C00178 Category:

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With a brief piece condensing the thoughts of Robert Schumann, on the archangel Johannes Brahms, the accomplished young man finds through the trust and admiration ot the Schuman couple his own unstoppable enthusiasm The year 1853 would see the arrival of the third voice, one intertwined with the secret harmony of Schumann and his dear partner Clara, This wonderful meeting came about by chance, at a time when romanticism had already reached its climax, embodied by the intensity of an exploration of which Schumann was one of the most flamboyant representatives. «ln the same way that one chord struck can make another vibrate and thereby render voluble the sharp or deep harmonies of the initial sound, thus leading the related movements to resonate in nature and in the heart: there too, the individuality of man seems to bean inseparable part of a greater whole», wrote painter Friedrich Cams. A poet first and foremost, Schumann immersed himself in the writings of the greatest romantic German authors, of his predecessors such as Goethe and of those who had prepared the fertile ground: Jean Paul Richter, of course, Novalis, Schlegel, Hoffmann, Chamisso (the latter two were haunted by the Doppelganger, the double), the constant presence of the cursed Hölderlin, and Byron’s Manfred. [here is an intertwining of the subject and the object, the poetic fragment, “Dichtungen”, the Kunstchaos, the fragmentary work (brilliantly theorised by Schlegel) which is a constant of oxymorons, the line of tension and dissection of chaotic and contradictory ideas and scattered pieces which the artist tries to unite by searching doggedly for Opposing ideas, to the point where he gets lost. This cruel undertaking of instability goes beyond classicism, but destroys what is only an illusory representation of «an artificial balance». We are already in the era of modernity with its share of strong contradictions and its deconstruction, unmasking confusion in a “new space” where chaos is regarded as the focal point of a quest, the first break which gives rise to the impossible to depict, the hidden. This unlearning, which only makes sense if it does not strive to romanticise blissfully the world rather by revealing it, tempts the birth of a genius. The new era, dear to Hölderlin. It is like reconstructing the world by looking at it turned on its head. «Knowing is a means of returning to non-knowledge», wrote Novalis. It has nothing to do with the calamitous principle of tabula rasa but refers to the rediscovery of memory; in other words the echo of the first song of men. «The expression of the mysterious rise towards chaos in work to reproduce incessant new and wonderful creations, a chaos which under the methodical creation and within itsefl ties itself up in knots.» We can clearly see that romanticism had already foretold its danger, that of its possible failure and in 1853 Schumann had already been subject to jolts of his near end, carried away by the phantoms which they no longer control, the pain abolishing the song that he no could no longer hear. Consumed by its prodigious intensity, Blanchot, in referring to Hölderlin, reminded us very rightly that Hölderlin was prepared to become poetically bankrupt, so that «that in him and by him, the excesses of the divine become moderation, shared moderation, and this destruction, this sefl-effacement through poetry, is what makes the words speak, which is the sign of excellence». Schumann would experience «the dreams of Jean Paul» until his solemn end: «Father where are you ? But I only heard the rain that was falling drop by drop in the abyss, and the eternal storm, which no order controls, was the only reply I received. My eyes were then directed towards the arch of the skies, but all I found there was an empty, dark and bottomless orbit». How can one not call to mind de Nerval, a germanophile, «the dark one, the widowed, the disconsolate», his «Dark Sun» and his «melancholy»? Through the memory of the work by his elder Schumann, Brahms would reveal his enduring genius and search in greater depth in the foundation of modernity already existent in Beethoven’s works, in his last and incredibly prophetic quartets. Judged hastily as a conservative of his time, Brahms had, in actual fact, immense respect for his forefathers: from the great Bach dear to Schumann to Palestrina, Schutz, Mozart and Beethoven. He composed his music under the guidance of one of the greatest representatives of musical tradition, like a heir endeavouring to be worthy of his masters. This attitude was not characteristic of the bards of new music like Wagner and Liszt, who would have no influence on Brahms and were indifferent to the enthusiasm generated by the novelty and, concerning the former, indifferent to the refusal to carry the burden of any heritage, or even assert it.
The music critic Hanslick took Brahms as a model in order to illustrate a formalist conception of music as opposed to the «ardent» and «despotic» music of Wagner and «his thousand combinations of sound», wrote a dazzled Baudelaire. Hanslick continued: «Form, as opposed to feeling, is the real content of music». One cannot reduce the musical essence of Brahms to this; admittedly, form is of great importance yet the vibrant lyricism, the astonishing flexibility of the melodic structure is supplemented by refined polyphonic composition, the multiplicity of line combinations, tones and rhythms are disseminated in a remarkable density of harmonies until the very amplification of the form. This is not to contradict Hanslick rather to point out the incom- pleteness of his definition, at least where Brahms is concerned. Brahms and Schumann were profoundly linked, yet certainly different, Clara Schumann was caught between our two men: the well-doing friend and the faithful artist. Yet there was an exceptional fertility in this transmission, a strong fidelity on a par with the creativity with which Brahms would embody the singularity of this transfer over time. There was also an in-depth assimilation of tradition, combined with the first visionary ideas of a Beethoven, then Schumann, the ardent combatant, whose essence of the romantic passion he would capture by translating, in his own manner, through the prism of his own inner language, as well as his restrained temperament, cold in his appearance, as if he were held back by a temperance and a reserve that conferred on him his extreme rigour. This sacred crossroads between a romantic era led towards its perfection, whose span would stretch to include the sublime symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss and new harmonies, as well as the extraordinary interweaving of new musical forms and tones.
The Variations opus 9 was written in 1853, when Brahms was only 21. Schumann would not waste any time in succumbing to his demons, after having tried to kill them off in the icy waters of the Rhine. By way of consolation, Schumann would give Clara the manuscript which left her greatly touched. lt bore the symbol of this sombre episode, and of the powerfully interiorised intensity, as if contained in a soft delicacy whose density develops under contradictory modes, insistent tensions, combined with a backdrop that is always impeccably rigorous, as it to lend greater emphasis to its contrasts, very subtle infinities and superimposed harmonies. The simple initial line of melodies propels us into an eeriness, which calls for intimate listening and self-concentration. An extraordinary melody; a spell, in the emotion of the incertitude. This is succeeded by rhythmic and energetic phrases, akin to an aggressive awakening before they carry us away, in a soft abyss, and more long phrases, of an agonizing melancholy, with an extraordinary fluidity, as if stretching the temporality that has become another, a mirror of this mysterious universe, delicately half-open. Finally, the last lines ring out in a deep meditative spacer. Following the vision disseminated and revealed by preserving its secret because it is indescribable. A return towards introspection closes the voyage, in a complete blur, even if it is by a subtle displacement of the soul. After Schumann composed his Variations opus 21 in 1838. A brilliant overture, a new birth, laden with soft promises. Some subtle melodic modulations suddenly give rise to worry, a dominating tonality of these variations. A blossoming is always an event of extreme fragility, developed on a deep melodic density, like a space, which expands accordingly to the content that carries these introspective meditations by Brahms. The opulent qualms are always shadowed by dark premonitions, as if contained in their enchanted enclosure. Then a radical change comes about in a new lease of supple and harsh energy, with the conflict between earth and light becoming inextricably interwoven, to which the harmonic fluidity unveils all of its emotional amplitude. More shifting, perpetual returns in inwardness, adorned with fine impressionist colours, those of the crepuscular earths of Nordic landscapes, imperceptible, as if in suspension, beyond time. This grandeur wanes on a succession of perceptible contrasts. The expression of romanticism reaches its own limits, unfolded on a line of contradictory tensions and in a way exhausted. The absolute senses and suspects, the desolation is rich with desire and memories, as if irrigated and invigorated by them. The ardent tranquillity of the last moments at last discovers the resuscitated dawn. Brahms leaves us filled with wonder and ever uncertain, it is about being carried by one’s song, the supernatural music closing in on itself, delighting us in our resignation, or in other words the furtive unveiling of the absolute and its impossibility «Expressing the undefined part of feeling that words too positive fail to do», wrote Baudelaire of the immense privilege of music, illustrated prodigiously in these very beautiful variations.
The recording is concluded with Variations on a theme by Paganini, opus 35, composed in 1862-63. Clara Schumann would nickname them «witchcraft variations». The set of 24 variations is divided into two books. Generous airs of intense lyricism, echoing previous variations, follow the succession of short pieces – a bravura display of virtuosity. Contrast dominates once more and one cannot reduce the astonishing difficulty to a simple exercise of virtuosity. The variations are characterised by a deep expressiveness and very lively nuances, Schumann is always present in the variations. We know that he was fascinated by Paganini, a Mephistophelean figure of this prodigy who never ceased to haunt him, like a ghostly figure from a Hofftman tale. After his Studies on Paganini Caprices, Schumann would feature him among his characterised portraits, an obscure evocation, in his Carnaval opus 9.



Ali Hireche was born in 1976 in Paris where he started to study music with the piano composer Antonio Ruiz-Pipo. By the age of 15 he moves to Italy to continue his musical jorney at the Milan “Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi” with Ricardo Risaliti. In 1997 he got his first – class diploma, in the same year he joined the Accademia di Imola “Incontri con il Maestro” to attend Master Classes by Alexander Loquich, Andrei Jazinsky and Louis Lortie. Later on he went to the” Fondazione per il pianoforte” in Cadenabbia where he improved his artistic skills beside notorius musicians such as Andraas Staier, Dimitri Baschkyrov, Charles Rosen, Peter Frankl, Boris Berman. At the age of 15 Ali Hireche started to perform both in recitals and concertos with orchestras in Italy ( Milano Sala Verdi, Sala Puccini), in Germany ( Munich, Gasteig, Baden Baden), Austria etc..., he also took part to various international competitions winning different awards such as: Concorso Internazionale Rovere D’Oro 1993, Concorso Internazionale di Senigaglia 1995, Premio della Critica al Concorso Europeo di Taranto 1998, Secondo Premio al Concorso Internazionale Luciano Gante , Primo Premio al Concorso La Fenice di Venezia 1999, International meetings Mée sur Seine award. This award is exclusive for those musicians graduated in international competitions.


Johannes Brahms: (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; d Vienna, 3 April 1897). German composer. The successor to Beethoven and Schubert in the larger forms of chamber and orchestral music, to Schubert and Schumann in the miniature forms of piano pieces and songs, and to the Renaissance and Baroque polyphonists in choral music, Brahms creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music. His works of controlled passion, deemed reactionary and epigonal by some, progressive by others, became well accepted in his lifetime.

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