Analysis of Brahms Op. 114

This project explores how recording has contributed to changes in our musical climate. This branch of the project sets out to compare two recordings from two different years of the first movement of Brahms Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (Op. 114) for differences in performance style and interpretation. One recording was made in 1924 and the other recording was made in 1952. The recording from 1924 will be referred to as Recording I and the recording from 1952 will be referred to as Recording II. Recording I was played by Sir Hamilton Harty (piano), William Henry Squire (cello) and Haydn Paul Draper (clarinet). Recording II (1952) was played by Franz Holeschek (piano), Leopold Wlach (clarinet) and Franz Kwarda (cello).  Measure numbers and times that reference Recording II will be referred to in italics.

The opening of this piece is layered and the styles of both recordings vary slightly at this point. This piece begins with solo cello followed by the clarinet and piano entering on the fourth beat of measure four (0:09, 0:08). When the clarinet enters in Recording I, the clarinet is more prominent than the other instruments and more easily heard. Even though the score is marked forte for the clarinet at measure four and un poco forte for the piano, the piano sounded to be at a more mezzo forte dynamic level. In Recording II, the piano is just as loud as the clarinet when it enters, which doesn’t fit with the instruments’ natural abilities to project sound. A piano has a much greater ability to project than a clarinet in most circumstances. This leads me to believe that there may have been modifications made in editing after the recording was made in order to make the clarinet and piano the same volume.

There is also a significant piano triplet eighth note figure at measure 13 (0:26, 0:26). In Recording II, this triplet motion behaves more like a figure that is underneath the tied whole note in the clarinet. This figure in Recording II also seems to roll by gravity, where in Recording I, there seems to be a force pushing this figure which seems more appropriate because this push gives this figure more direction and a purpose. The space between eighth notes is also shorter than in Recording II, giving this section a greater sense of urgency. This gives the line more motion and sets up the stage for the next musical idea more efficiently than the way the figure is treated in Recording II. Recording I seems to have more natural, human motion and works more effectively.

Recording I, Measure 13:

Recording II, Measure 13:

This is also a great difference between how the peak at measure 22 is treated (0:42, 0:40). In Recording II, there is less dynamic change through this figure. The figure jumps using triplets up to a peak on an A minor chord. The score itself has no markings that indicate a dynamic change in this figure. Recording I peaks more naturally than Recording II. In Recording I, the piano holds back and slows dramatically as it approaches the peak, which builds more tension and motion towards the resolution.

Recording I, Measure 22:

Recording II, Measure 22:

Brahms also writes a lot of interplay between voices in this piece.  Often a certain rhythmic figure is passed from the piano to the cello or clarinet to cello. These rhythmic figures are treated with different levels of expression in the two recording. For example, at measures 18-21 (0:33, 0:34), Recording II allows for more time between the figures as they are passed from voice to voice, while in Recording I the figures are more tightly packed together.  Thus, there is virtually no time between the point where the clarinet finished a figure and the cello picks it up. I found this style from Recording I to be more efficient and helps the figure grow and lead to the next more efficiently than Recording II does.

Brahms also throws a figure between voices at measures 24-27 (0:44, 0:44). In Recording I, this figure is introduced more effectively as a new idea than in Recording II. Recording I also uses dynamics better in this figure as it crescendos and then decrescendos as the figure is passed from voice to voice. The same could be said about the figure that travels from voice to voice in measures 106-114 (3:24, 3:04).

At points Brahms will reunite the voices and take them from passing one figure back and forth to playing the same rhythmic figure at the same time or do the opposite when the voices split after sharing the same figure. This happens as measures 120-122 (3:50, 3:26). This sixteenth figure is originally shared by the clarinet and cello with steady quarter notes in the bass until the two voices split apart and pass the same rhythmic pattern back and forth. Recording I does this more efficiently than Recording II. Not only do the two voices pass well, but the clarinet and cello never fall out of time with the steady quarter notes played by the piano (measures 21-22). In Recording II, the clarinet and cello voices don’t fall out of time with each other but do fall out of time with the quarter notes being played by the piano.

Another stylistic difference between these two recordings is the presence or lack of glissando in the cello’s performance (A demonstration of glissando and portamento by The Fiddlerman of Fiddlerman.com). Recording I definitely had more glissando present than Recording II, which barely had any examples of glissandos. This difference could be explained by the over twenty year difference in age of these recordings and the change in the use of glissando over the decades between the two pieces. These differences can be heard as measures 44 (1:20, 1:16), 157 (5:05, 4:33), 165 (5:20, 4:48) and 207 (6:46, 5:59).

Recording I, Measure 44:

Recording II, Measure 44:

Recording I, Measure 207:

Recording II, Measure 207:

There are also many tempo changes in both performances. There are only a few tempo changes indicated in the score, nevertheless both of the performances contain many changes in tempo. Both Recording I and II begin at roughly the same tempo, but over time Recording II picks up more speed than Recording I. There is also an important tempo difference in an eighth note clarinet figure at measure 76 (2:23, 2:13). In Recording I, the figure has more dynamic and tempo contrast. It ritards and also decrescendos as it goes along. In Recording II, the figure is more static and doesn’t change too much in either dynamics or tempo. The changes in the figure in Recording I give this part of the piece more motion.

This is also a significant rhythmic prolongation at measure 93 (2:54, 2:43). This rhythmic prolongation is a modification of a figure that Brahms uses a lot, which is a dotted quarter followed by an eighth note. Instead of using this arrangement, Brahms uses a half note tied to a dotted quarter that is then followed by an eighth note. This is a stretch and prolongation of his original figure that builds up to the sixteenth notes in measure 95. Recording II definitely does a better job of handling this prolongation. Recording I leaves too much space between the tied half and dotted quarter notes, which almost ruins the prolongation because the purpose of this prolongation is to play with expectations and stretch time leading to measures 95 and 96. Because Recording II fills in these gaps and almost exaggerates the figure, their interpretation is more effective.

Measure 93, Recording I:

Measure 93, Recording II:

Brahms again uses and ends his piece with his idea of passing an arpeggio figure and then playing the figure together a figure. Recording I is more expressive at the end of this piece, but the clarinet and cello fall out of time around measure 222 (7:21). At points the clarinet can’t even be heard, meaning either the clarinetist dropped out or the quality of the recording isn’t strong enough to be able to project. Recording II stays in time and you can clearly hear both voices, but the end of the piece is definitely less expressive in Recording II and leaves something to be desired. This is because Recording I is more flexible and doesn’t stay in a strict tempo. There is more contrast is the rising and falling of phrases and more freedom to emphasize certain points in this part of the piece.

Overall, both of these recordings have their merit and are overall brilliant performances. However, I found that Recording I was more expressive, even though it was not as technically strong. Figures that were designed to move the piece in a certain direction were used more effectively in Recording I and therefore this interpretation had more natural ebbs and flows that gave it more character. Recording II was well balanced and technically strong, but even the last few measures didn’t feel conclusive. These two recordings were created almost thirty years apart and reflect significant differences in performance style. The biggest is glissando, which marks a great change in performance since the introduction of recording. Glissando was used much more before recording was introduced because it is believe that glissando doesn’t come across as well in recordings.

A bigger picture indicator is a change in overall expressiveness that these two pieces have demonstrated. Allegro I is again, not as technically sound but allows for more freedom in the rising and falling phrases. Allegro II which is a more recent recording is much more strict and less expressive, which could reflect an increased emphasis on technical perfection that could be the result of recording.

A full version of Recording I can be found here.

A full version of Recording II can be found here.

Comments are closed