Release Date: 02 November 1992

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Producers: Hanno Rinke / Hans Weber 

Recording place: Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg &

Beethovensaal, Hannover

Total playing time: CD [53:05]

Copyright: © 1992 Deutsche Grammophon


02 November 1992

On the pale sea strand
I sat alone, troubled in thought
A strange noise of whispering and whistling,
of laughing and murmuring, sighing and humming,
interspersed with the singing of quiet lullabies —

Heine: “Twilight” from The North Sea

The pieces on the present recording are musical poems in the true sense. They are short, concentrated reveries, which Brahms was inspired to write (as happened with Beethoven) as a result of long walks in the countryside. Moreover, Brahms was an indefatigable traveller, who visited the principal cities of Germany and Austria and picturesque places in Switzerland and Italy. His creative urge prompted these wanderings, but there may also have been an unconscious need on his part to relegate his passionate, yet ultimately doomed, feelings of love to the furthest recesses of his memory — ideal loves, such as that for Elisabeth, the young Baroness von Stockhausen, ephemeral loves that often turned out to be illusory. Elisabeth married Heinrich von Herzogen-berg; her constructive comments on the music merited her the dedication of the Two Rhapsodies op. 79.

Were Brahms’s physical wanderings the counterpart to the psychological wanderings or to the madness of his venerated predecessor Schumann, constantly in Brahms’s thoughts as a result of his faithful friendship with Clara Schumann? A deeper answer is to be sought in the mythical past of the rhapsodies, legends and ancient ballads from Scotland translated by Herder in his Volkslieder (“Folk-songs”):

Balow, my babe, lye still and sleipe!
It grieves me sair to see thee weipe…

This quotation, the epigraph to the original edition of op. 117 no. 1, comes from “Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament” in Percy’s anthology Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. One can imagine the compos¬er’s mother singing this lullaby, while the Pis Adagio second section, in a shifting, chromatic E flat minor, evokes an anxious atmosphere appropriate to the second verse:

When he began to court my hive,
And with his sugred wordes to muve,
His faynings fats, and flattering cheire
To me that time did not appeire…

The biographer Florence May tells us that Brahms was deeply affected by his parents’ separation and that on the death of his mother he was concerned to reconcile the couple by a symbolic gesture, taking his father’s hand and placing it on his mother’s brow.

The pieces Ivo Pogorelich has chosen were written during the last years of Dostoevsky’s life (opp. 76 and 79 in the 1870s) and in the period when Freud was producing his first works (op. 117 and op. 118 no. 2. 1892 and 1893 respectively). Their formal simplicity, often a modest ABA structure, is only a facade behind which things are changing constantly, in a flux which enables the composer to avoid the black and white of major and minor. He introduces ambiguities which recall Schubert, daring modulations smoothly integrated by a subtly varied rhythmic pulse that constantly shades into silence, melodies in parallel octaves which Pogorelich renders in as spectral a manner as one could possibly wish for. This is music whose force of psychological penetration foreshadows the compassionate and contemplative melancholy of Rainer Maria Rilke. The melodies are Romantic and perfectly “visible”, yet they break up and reform like evanescent love affairs. One perceives Brahms’s musical language at first as consisting of colours, atmospheres and vertical harmonies; but the attentive ear soon realizes that each note in a chord contributes to a complex fabric of mysterious counterpoint, and may also emerge in its own right, like a tender memory which refuses to melt into a past without pain. What surprises one continually in Pogorelich’s performances is that he highlights secondary voices in a way that at first seems arbitrary, but proves to be rich in meaning. This shared insight makes terrible demands on us, demands which recall Yves Bonnefoy’s words in L’Improbable et attires essais (“The Improbable and Other Essays”): “For I can now define what I mean by poetry. In no way, although people still say this so often today, is it the making of an object where meanings compose a structure, whether it be to entrap wandering thoughts, or to blend together, with a deceptive beauty. aspects of my own being, fragments of elusive ‘truth’. That object does indeed exist, but it is the poem’s husk, not its soul or its plan, and to grasp at that alone is to remain in the dissociated world, the world of objects – the object which I, too, am, and wish to cease being. The more concerned one is to analyse fine points and ambiguities of expression, the more one risks overlooking an intention to save, which is the sole purpose of the poem. All it actually aims to do is to make what is real, inner. It seeks out the bonds between things in me. It must give me the possibility of living myself justly, and its highest moments are at times a mere noting down of facts, as the visible hovers on the brink of becoming a face; and the part, independent of metaphor, speaks in the name of the whole, where what was silent in the distance is once more noise, and breathes in the open pallor of existence. Concerning this approach to words, one must re¬peat that invisibility does not mean disappearance. but rather the liberation of the visible. Time and space collapse so that the flame, in which both tree and wind become fate, may rise again.”

With these Tarkovskian images of flame, wind and tree in mind we can now, as we listen to Brahms, allow the essence of these poems to be distilled in us – poems poised in the eternal moment of infinity, sculpted in time by Ivo Pogorelich.


© Pierre Jasmin / Deutsche Grammophon