Brahms’ Circle: 19th century Music for Two Pianos


  • Artist(s): Maria Teresa Pizzulli, Simona Coco
  • Composer(s): Bernhard Scholz, Bernhard Stavenhagen, Carl Reinecke, Ignaz Brüll, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • EAN Code: 7.46160914275
  • Format: 2 Cds
  • Genre: Chamber
  • Instrumentation: Two Pianos
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00595 Category:

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Take two pianists. Let them seat side by side at the same keyboard. You will have a four-hand piano duet. The repertoire for this very special ensemble is extremely varied, and ranges from works of a very elementary difficulty, but whose overall aural result is rather satisfactory due to the availability of twenty fingers, up to virtuoso and brilliant works. Take the same two pianists, and let them seat at two pianos, and you will have a two-piano duet. Seemingly, there is little difference between the two ensembles. But, in fact, their two domains overlap only slightly. Whilst, as has been said, the four-hand piano repertoire does include some very virtuoso pieces, many works written for this ensemble, and which are mostly forgotten nowadays, allowed unskilled amateurs to play something pleasing to the ear. Some nineteenth-century piano duets for four hands practically divide into two parts what a professional pianist could almost play with his or her ten fingers. It is almost as with tennis doubles, which could be played by the greatest professional players, but also afford the pleasure of a game to those with limited athletic skills.
Four-hand duets were a typical pastime for the bourgeoisie, as typically households owned a piano, and it was more fun to play together than alone (and the result was generally more satisfying). By way of contrast, very few households owned two keyboard instruments, and those who had them were generally the homes of professional musicians. Thus, the “amateur” component of part of the four-hand piano duet repertoire is virtually missing from the two-pianos repertoire. Bluntly put, four-hand piano music includes works for both amateurs and professionals, whilst the music for two pianos generally is conceived for fully-fledged professionals. And this is widely demonstrated by the programme recorded in these two Da Vinci Classics albums.
The pivotal figure around which these albums revolve is that of Robert Schumann. As is well known, as a young man Schumann had dreamt of becoming a professional concert pianist, reproducing on the keyboard the personality and success Paganini was having at the violin. Then, over-practice and malpractice ruined forever his chances to achieve that goal, and – perhaps to our lasting fortune – he dedicated himself to composition. Still, after many chagrins, Schumann could achieve his other great dream, i.e. to get married to Clara Wieck. She was a very gifted musician: an outstanding pianist and a skilled composer, nine years Robert’s junior. She championed relentlessly his music, both during his lifetime and after his death, and, of course, they did play together. The unique atmosphere of the Schumanns’ household – where artists frequently gathered, where children abounded, and where musicians flocked – is evoked by the Andante and Variations op. 46. This beautiful composition (1843) was originally scored for a rather unique ensemble of two pianos, two horns, and two cellos. The overall sound has therefore some very special features: horns are, as always, suggestive of nature, open-air, but also of the supernatural, as Carl Maria von Weber had taught the Romantic generation. The combination with cellos imparted a dark colour to the ensemble, and the two pianos replaced an entire orchestral texture. However, if it was uncommon for German bourgeois household to have two pianos at disposal, still less common was the possibility of playing with two cellists and two hornists (!), so that the published version was for “just” two pianos. The piece’s atmosphere was described by Schumann himself as follows: “Their mood is very elegiac, and I think I must have been very melancholy when I wrote them”. And melancholic he was, affected as he was by the mental illness which would undermine his last years. Due to its multifaceted affective atmosphere, this work was perhaps the only one in the two-piano repertoire to achieve true popularity in the nineteenth century. Clara played it often with Johannes Brahms, Anton Rubinstein and Ignaz Moscheles.
Two years later, Schumann’s mental health was deteriorating, also in consequence of his short appointment at the Leipzig Conservatory, after which he moved with his family to Dresden. But, at the Conservatory, he had encountered an instrument – or rather a device for an instrument – which had fascinated him, i.e. the Pedalpiano. This consisted of an appendage which could be added to a normal piano, and was similar to an organ’s pedalboard; it could be used by organ students to perfect their pedalling skills. Schumann brought that pedalboard with him to Dresden, and set himself to the composition of several contrapuntal works. (This is touchingly significant: as he was losing control of his emotional states, he clung to the safety anchor of organized, methodic counterpoint). Among these were the Six Studies in the Canonic form, recorded here in Debussy’s transcription. Claude Debussy was a staunch advocate of the two-piano duo, having premiered Wagner’s Rheingold in France with Raoul Pugno, and having arranged a very heterogeneous collection of works including Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, and a Caprice by Saint-Saëns on melodies by Gluck.
Schumann’s Andante and Variations had been played by Clara also with Carl Reinecke, a Danish-born composer of a younger generation, who nourished an intense admiration for Robert. At first, Schumann had disappointed his hopes and denied a review to some works Reinecke had sent to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, but later the two musicians became close friends, and Schumann praised him warmly. Discussing an arrangement Reinecke had made of Schumann’s songs, the composer stated: “But under your hands, dear Mr Reinecke, I felt quite all right and this is because you understand me, like few others”. Later, Schumann would dedicate to him his Four Fugues op. 72, one of his latest works, and Reinecke reciprocated (posthumously) with his Piano Trio op. 38. Reinecke’s Andante and Variations clearly refer to Schumann’s model, whilst bearing the clear mark of their own composer’s personality. Expressiveness and a singing style are their most distinguishing features, though virtuoso and brilliant moments are not missing.
Clara Schumann did not limit herself, however, to championing her husband’s music. Like Robert, she was generous, particularly with younger musicians. Thus, one of the pieces she valiantly promoted was the Piano Concerto written by Bernhard E. Scholz, a conductor, composer, and teacher-to-be. His Contrapuntal Variations on a Gavotte by Handel pay a double homage: to the art of counterpoint as practised by the German composers of the previous generations, from Bach (and before him) to Schumann and his Canonic Studies; and to the Baroque era in general, as embodied by Handel in particular. This homage, in turn, cannot but suggest to us a reference to Johannes Brahms’ Handel Variations op. 24 for solo piano, written on an Air by Handel and crowned by a majestic Fugue.
Indeed, Johannes Brahms had been perhaps the most famous among the musicians Schumann brought to the fore, with a very celebrated article by the title of New Ways. On the other hand, Brahms and Scholz had signed together the manifesto against the “Music of the Future”, i.e. the Weimar School (in 1860). The friendship between Scholz and Brahms was a lasting one. Brahms’ own Variations on a Theme by Haydn for two pianos (existing also in an original orchestration by the composer) belong in the same line as his Handel Variations, although, in this case, both titles under which the theme was known to Brahms are wrong… Brahms was shown this theme by Carl Ferdinand Pohl, a musicologist, who indicated it as having been written by Haydn, and as bearing the indication “Chorale St. Anthoni”. But no such work was written by Haydn (the most likely, though by no means certain attribution is to Ignaz Pleyel), and no Chorale of St. Anthony with that melody exists. Still, paying homage to Haydn, Brahms does insert a quote from Haydn’s works, echoing a fragment from Haydn’s Clock Symphony in the finale’s coda. This absolute masterpiece by Brahms demonstrates his mastery of the Variation form and his sublime use of the Chaconne compositional style, which will also inspire his Fourth Symphony – many years later.
Ignaz Brüll befriended a good friend of Johannes Brahms, Eusebius Mandyczewski, and was considered during his lifetime as one of the greatest interpreters of the music by Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms himself. The fact that among his admirers could be counted Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and Clara Schumann speaks volumes about his skill, and Brahms wanted his piano works to be premiered by Brüll. And this regarded not just Brahms’ piano pieces: many of his orchestral works were sight-read by the composer and by Brüll at the piano. As a composer, his style mirrors the influence of his friend Brahms; his Duo op. 64 includes a Theme with Variations which reflect the other examples of this genre included in this compilation. Exoticism is present in the third movement, “in the Arabic fashion”; in general, all of his works recorded here display the melodic gifts of the composer, his skill in the conception of piano scoring, and his mastery of form.
By way of contrast, Bernhard Stavenhagen belonged in the field against which Brahms and Scholz had signed their manifesto. Stavenhagen was a cherished pupil by Liszt, and even though many of Liszt’s students claimed to be the last heirs of their teacher’s secrets, in Stavenhagen’s case Liszt’s predilection is documented. In spite of the fierce opposition between the two fields, it will be observed that lyricism, mastery of the form, and virtuosity (the elements we observed in most pieces by the other composers) are equally characteristic of Stavenhagen’s music. Thus, it can be said that, after more than one and a half century, the battle between the two fields has reached a very musical peace and harmony. Indeed… something akin to a duet with two pianos!
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022


Maria Teresa Pizzulli
obtained the academic diploma in piano soloism, with full marks, honors and special mention at the Conservatory of Matera, under the guidance of Maurizio Matarrese.
She studied in Rome with the pianist Constance Channon Douglas of the Juillard School of Music (USA). She have attended the International Advanced Courses held by Nicola Frisardi (Mozarteum Salzburg), Aldo Ciccolini (France), Piero Rattalino (Italy), Aquiles delle Vigne (Brussels).
She has participated in numerous piano competitions, bringing back various prizes such as: 1st overall in Duo at the National Competition "Young Promises" - Taranto 1990, 2nd in Trio at the National Competition "Suona con noi" - Pesaro 1989, 3rd at the National Piano Competition "Città di Roma” 1986, the only winner at the “M.Kolbe” National Piano Competition in Barra (NA) 1985. Winner of the audition of the “Clara Wieck” European Female Pianist Orchestra - Milan 1993 and of the call for accompanying pianist of the Conservatory of the Aosta Valley.
She collaborates with Orchestra of the Matera Conservatory, Matera 2.0 Barocco Ensemble and Echo Orchestra for the diffusion of Contemporary Christian Music.
She teaches piano at Conservatory of Matera, where she also works as accompanist pianist for instrument and conducting classes. She is an adjunct professor of Music Education Methodology at the University of Turin in the Faculty of Education.
She is the founder of the musical association Officine d 'Arte APS. For Symphonic Edition she recorded in 2013 with the violinist Carmela Pizzulli the CD “Women composers from 700 to the present day” and
she have published the book "Il Solfeggio? ... A Child's Play!".

Simona Coco
tuscan by birth and cultural background, began studying her instrument at the age of five. She have obtained five Conservatory Diplomas, all at the Conservatory of Florence with full marks and honors: in piano soloism, chamber music and vocal chamber music. She too graduated with full marks in music history from the DAMS in Bologna University.
His great experience, enriched by the knowledge of teachers such as Carmassi, Masi, Risaliti, Scala, the members of the Trio di Trieste, Vavolo, Mealli, De Lisi and the study of the organ with Mochi, of percussion with Faralli, jazz with D'Andrea, led her to collaborate with important soloists (Quartetto Prometeo, with the first parts of the Rai Orchestra, in particular Milani), conductors (De Burgos, Neuhold, Petrenko), composers (Sciarrino, Berio, Henze, Bacalov) and singers (Elio delle Storie Tese, Antonella Ruggero) as well as with prestigious institutions such as Philharmonic of Rome, State Philharmonic Orchestra of Russe (Bulgaria) and Bacau (Romania), Accademia Musicale Chigiana of Siena, Luciano Pavarotti Foundation. Of particular importance is the intense collaboration with Rai National Symphony Orchestra, Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento and Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte of Montepulciano.
She have toured in Thailand, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia (in particular in Moscow Tchaikovsky Hall of the State Philharmonic and Tchaikovsky Conservatory).
She have served at the Conservatories of Matera, Palermo, Trapani, Turin, Bolzano, Perugia, Lucca and Siena. She currently holds a chair in piano soloism at the Florence Conservatory. She have recorded for Rai 3, SKY, BD Records, The House of Glass, Holywood and Siena Jazz.


Bernhard (Ernst) Scholz,
(b Mainz, 30 March 1835; d Munich, 26 Dec 1916). German conductor and composer, father of Hans Scholz. He first studied music with Heinrich Esser and Ernst Pauer and, after a trip to Paris to learn lithography at his father's request, took further instruction from S.W. Dehn (composition) and Sangiovanni (singing) in Milan. He taught theory at the Royal School of Music in Munich from 1856, then conducted the opera in Zürich and Nuremberg before becoming assistant court Kapellmeister to Marschner in Hanover (1859–65). Subsequently he conducted the concerts of the Società Cherubini in Florence (1865–6) before his activity as a conductor in Berlin, where he directed the Philharmonic Concerts and the Cäcilienverein and taught at Kullak's and Stern's conservatories. From 1871 he directed the concerts of the Breslau Orchestral Society. He succeeded Raff as director of the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in 1883, a position he retained until his retirement in 1908; he also conducted the choral union founded by F.W. Rühl (from 1884). Scholz was a promoter of the use of art in a patriotic and social context, and in 1897 founded the first workers' Volkschor in Germany. On retirement he went first to Florence and then settled in Munich in 1914. The University of Breslau awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1883.

Scholz belonged to the circle of Brahms, Joachim and Clara Schumann, and was among those who signed the famous manifesto of March 1860 against the New German School. He worked assiduously to promote the works of Brahms, whose influence is most evident in his compositions. His late chamber music, which shows a concern with form and finish in detail, represents the highpoint of his output. His String Quartet in G op.46 won the Florentine Quartet Prize in 1877, and his String Quintet in E minor op.47 was awarded a prize by a St Petersburg society the following year. Scholz was also distinguished as an author and compiler of textbooks.

Bernhard Stavenhagen
(b Greiz, 24 Nov 1862; d Geneva, 25 Dec 1914). German pianist, conductor and composer. Following early instruction in Greiz under Wilhelm Urban, he moved with his family to Berlin at the age of 12; there he took lessons at the Hochschule für Musik with Ernst Rudorff and studied theory and composition with Friedrich Kiel. In 1880 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Prize. Following successful concert appearances in several German cities, Stavenhagen travelled to Weimar in the summer of 1885, becoming a favourite pupil of Liszt, who attended his acclaimed London début at the Crystal Palace on 10 April 1886, at which he played Liszt's First Concerto. From 1887 Stavenhagen toured throughout central Europe and in Russia and North America, creating a powerful impression wherever he appeared and being recognized as one of the foremost virtuosos of his age. After becoming court pianist to the Grand Duke of Weimar in 1890, he was awarded the Order of the White Falcon in 1892 and was appointed Kapellmeister of the Hofoper in 1895. His tenure was notable for his championship of works by contemporary composers such as Strauss, Mahler and Dvořák. This brought him into conflict with the reactionary attitudes of some court officials and at the end of the 1897–8 season he resigned his post. In 1898 he became court Kapellmeister in Munich, where he remained until 1902. Stavenhagen was also active in the pedagogical field: his students included Ernest Hutcheson and Edouard Risler, and as director of the Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich (1901–4) he conducted masterclasses and carried out an extensive reorganization of the academy, overseeing the modernization of its syllabus. His success in this field led to his being appointed director of the masterclass for piano at the Geneva Conservatoire in 1907. In Geneva he also became director and conductor of the municipal orchestra's subscription concert series, remaining there until his death.

On the evidence of his few piano roll recordings, Stavenhagen's playing was, like that of many of Liszt's later students, notable for its rhetorical breadth rather than simply virtuoso display. Hanslick praised the subtlety of his tonal palette and his variety of touch, and his sensitivity and restraint made him an especially persuasive Chopin player. He was also highly regarded as an interpreter of Beethoven. His repertory was, however, dominated by the works of Liszt, whose compositional style, in particular his development of one-movement cyclic form and thematic metamorphosis, had a profound impact on Stavenhagen's own works, as may be seen from the structure of his Concerto in B minor op.4. This was the first of three, of which one was lost, the other remaining in manuscript in the form of a piano reduction. His three sets of lieder reveal a lyrical intensity and a lush harmonic language that betrays the influence not only of Liszt, Mahler and Strauss but also contextualizes his advocacy of contemporaries such as Debussy, Ravel and Dukas.

Carl Reinecke: (b Altona, 23 June 1824; d Leipzig, 10 March 1910). German composer, teacher, administrator, pianist and conductor. He was given a thorough musical education by his father, J.P. Rudolf Reinecke (b Hamburg, 22 Nov 1795; d Segeberg, 14 Aug 1883), a respected music theoretician and author of several textbooks. From 1845 Reinecke travelled through Europe, from Danzig to Riga; in Copenhagen he was appointed court pianist in 1846, where his duties included accompanying the violinist H.W. Ernst as well as giving solo recitals. He was given a particularly friendly reception in Leipzig by Mendelssohn and the Schumanns, and Liszt, whose daughter was later taught by Reinecke in Paris, spoke of his ‘beautiful, gentle, legato and lyrical touch’. In 1851 he moved to Cologne, where he taught counterpoint and the piano at Hiller’s conservatory. He also gave concerts with Hiller, who recommended him to Barmen. There as musical director and the conductor of several musical societies between 1854 and 1859, he significantly raised the standard of the town’s musical life. He then spent ten months in Breslau as director of music at the university and conductor of the Singakademie.
By 1860 his growing reputation brought him an appointment to teach at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he became the director in 1897. By selecting capable teachers who shared his conservative views and by improving the facilities and the syllabus, Reinecke transformed the conservatory into one of the most renowned in Europe. Grieg, Kretzschmar, Kwast, Muck, Riemann, Sinding, Svendsen, Sullivan and Weingartner were all pupils there; and to this distinguished list could be added many other names of equal repute, showing how exaggerated was the reproach, made particularly in north Germany, that Leipzig was a hotbed of reaction (although this criticism had some justification after 1880). But it cannot be denied that Reinecke considered it his responsibility as director to perpetuate the example of the Classical composers; he was very conscious of his position as a representative and guardian of tradition, and also made it his business to foster the music of the pre-Classical composers, particularly Bach, even exploring as far back as Palestrina. He was a sympathetic teacher who firmly believed in the necessity of a thorough grounding. In Leipzig, he was also the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra until 1895 (when Nikisch succeeded him); a stern disciplinarian, he achieved a high standard of virtuosity from his players by his insistence on clarity of execution. Reinecke became a member of the Berlin Academy in 1875, received the honorary doctorate in 1884 and became a professor in 1885. He retired in 1902, though his creative work continued until the end of his life.
As a composer Reinecke was best known for his numerous piano compositions, representing virtually every musical form of the time and, despite being influenced by Mendelssohn’s melodic style, was stylistically nearer to Schumann. The exercises for young pianists and the piano sonatinas have become classics because of their charming melodies, as have the canons and nursery rhymes which are highly inventive and totally free from bourgeois sentimentality. Reinecke was a master of the so-called ‘Hausmusik’ and of the simpler forms popular at the time. His chamber music is distinguished and, in the later works in particular, attains a Brahmsian majesty and warmth within a variety of forms. His sonata for flute and piano, Undine, is his most frequently performed work. His most successful concertos are those for flute and for harp, and the first and third for piano, which well display his pleasant melodic sense and his admirable ear for orchestration; the piano concertos avoid grand soloistic mannerisms, and his own style of playing, with hands still and fingers curved, reflected his belief in classical practice. Of his three symphonies, the first employs small forces, while the second is a cyclically organized work on a grand scale. His operas, despite their Wagnerian trappings, were not successful; his better-known musical fairy tales, based in part on his own texts (written under the name Heinrich Carsten), were composed in a tasteful folk-style. Gifted in many fields, he was also a talented painter and poet. His lucidly written books and essays contain many observations still of interest.

Ignaz Brüll
(b Prossnitz [now Prostějov], 7 Nov 1846; d Vienna, 17 Sept 1907). Austrian pianist and composer. He came from a musical family that had settled in Vienna by 1850. There he studied the piano with Julius Epstein and composition with Johann Rufinatscha and Otto Dessoff. In 1861 Epstein played a concerto by Brüll; this brought the young composer to the public’s attention. In 1864 his First Serenade for orchestra was played in Stuttgart, and in the same year he completed his first opera, Die Bettler von Samarkand. He appeared as a concert pianist in Vienna and made several concert tours, including one in 1878 to London, where he played in 20 concerts; however composing gradually replaced performing as his main activity. He taught at the Horák piano school in Vienna (1872–8) and became one of its directors in 1881. A retiring, modest man, he was a member of the Brahms circle in Vienna and a close friend of Brahms, for and with whom he often played. His greatest success was the opera Das goldene Kreuz, which was first produced in Berlin in 1875 and revived in London three years later by Carl Rosa.

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.

Robert Schumann: (b Zwickau, Saxony, 8 June 1810; d Endenich, nr Bonn, 29 July 1856). German composer and music critic. While best remembered for his piano music and songs, and some of his symphonic and chamber works, Schumann made significant contributions to all the musical genres of his day and cultivated a number of new ones as well. His dual interest in music and literature led him to develop a historically informed music criticism and a compositional style deeply indebted to literary models. A leading exponent of musical Romanticism, he had a powerful impact on succeeding generations of European composers.