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Gerald Carpenter: Music Club Players Explore Brahms

The Santa Barbara Music Club will offer another free concert of classical chamber music at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, in their time-honored venue of the Faulkner Gallery at the main branch of the Santa Barbara Public Library, 40 E. Anapamu St.

This afternoon, the club musicians will concentrate on a single composer for a program they call Johannes Brahms in Retrospect. The concert is co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara Public Library, and admission, as noted above, is free.

Pianist Constantine Finehouse, clarinetist Joanne Kim, violinist Han Soo Kim, and cellist Sang Yhee will perform Brahms' "Piano Trio No. 1 in B-Major, Opus 8" (1854); his "Scherzo in c-minor for Violin & Piano, WoO 2" (1853); and the "Clarinet Trio in a-minor, Opus 114" (1891).

It's too bad Hanslick couldn't keep his mouth shut — proclaiming Brahms Beethoven's heir and all that. Brahms' music and Beethoven's are great above the level where comparisons are useful.

In fact, I never heard much Beethoven in Brahms — who seems methodologically more directly beholden to Schumann or, possibly, Schubert.

Yet the sublime gorgeousness of Brahms' tunes impressed even so harsh a critical listener as Mahler, who complained in a letter to Alma, "He never makes anything of his melodies, which are often quite lovely."

Indeed, I would say oftener than with any other composer, Beethoven included. For, as Robert Craft noted, "Beethoven is primarily an instrumental composer, even when writing for voices, Brahms a vocal one, even when writing for instruments."

The ravishing beauty of Brahms' music is best appreciated in his chamber compositions (less bombast to sit through, waiting for the great parts), and never more so than in the "Opus 8" piano trio.

I was nearing 40 when I first heard it, and had pretty much consigned Brahms to the dustbin of outgrown youthful enthusiasms. In a flash, the Trio showed me how utterly mistaken I had been.

In 1853, Robert Schumann talked Brahms and Albert Dietrich (Schumann's pupil) into collaborating with him on a violin-piano sonata to be a gift and tribute to violinist Joseph Joachim, whom the three composers had recently befriended.

Schumann wrote two movements; Brahms and Dietrich, one each. The project became the so-called "F-A-E Sonata."

Schumann later adapted his two movements into his "Sonata No. 3;" Brahms made his Scherzo into a stand-alone "Sonatensatz," which has enjoyed a quite vigorous independent existence, especially after Joachim allowed it to be published, in 1906.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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