Johannes Brahms in Switzerland

The Musikkollegium Winterthur ended its concert season with a Brahms-Festival. Entire work cycles were performed. Furthermore, one could walk through Winterthur on Brahms’ tracks and learning about his painter friends Böcklin and Hodler in the Kunst Museum Winterthur.

Publisher «Jakob Melchior
Biedermann» carried out
Winterthur «on Brahm's
Werner Pfister – Brahms in Winterthur, Switzerland – that is a unique, 15-years-lasting success story. It all started in 1856, when Winterthur’s town organist Theodor Kirchner first met Johannes Brahms in Düsseldorf. On this occasion, he made the 23 years old composer aware of the Winterthur publisher Jakob Melchior Rieter-Biedermann, who had already founded a music publishing company in 1849. Brahms was obviously interested, and he already visited Winterthur in August 1856, accompanied by Clara Schumann – on his first journey through Switzerland. His journeys to Switzerland would amount to a total of fourteen.

«Free yet lonely»
In Winterthur, Brahms liked to stay in the house Schanzengarten, which was owned by Rieter-Biedermann’s family. Rieter-Biedermann’s wife looked after him, and daughter Ida even helped him finding suitable bible passages for his German Requiem in 1866. This marvelous work was mostly written in Winterthur and in Zürich. Clara Schumann had already felt on the first visit to Rieter-Biedermann’s house in 1856, that daughter Ida would be Brahms’ ideal wife. The story took a different turn though: «Free yet lonely» was Brahm’s philosophy of life.

The house at the Schanzengarten of the
Publisher Biedermann became new
This wouldn’t harm Brahms’ relation to the Rieter-Biedermann publishing house. On the contrary, in 1858 already, a first work of his appeared, and he would publish a total of 22 works in the years to come, including such historical works like the German Requiem or the first Piano Concerto. His travels to Switzerland weren’t limited to business. Brahms loved the Swiss summers and would visit Gersau or the alps in Bern, and spent three consecutive summers – from 1886 to 1888 – at the Lake Thun. That’s where he composed his last orchestral work, the double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, as well as the violin sonata in A-major op. 100, as well as a few Lieder.

In the Biedermanns' garden house.
Johannes Brahms lived and composed.
Brahms in the Meininger Tradition
The Brahms-Festival of the Musikkollegium Winterthur resembles this multifaceted relationship of Brahms with Winterthur and Switzerland. For example through the performance of the four symphonies, the two piano concertos, the three violin sonatas or the German Requiem, as well as through the promenade «On Brahms' Tracks in Winterthur» or a tour in the Kunst Museum Winterthur, about Brahm’s painter friends Arnold Böcklin and Ferdinand Hodler. The influence of Winterthur’s Brahms-Festival exceeds the city by far – reaching up to Meiningen in Southern Thüringen. Brahms was a frequent guest conductor, performing his own works with the Meininger Hofkapelle, creating an actual Meininger Brahms-tradition. Brahms though of the conductor of this Hofkapelle as the best interprete for his symphonies, and kept giving advice on musical interpretation.

City President Michael Künzle
unveiled the plaque
Johannes Brahms.
Fortunately, Steinbach’s student Walter Blume collected these instructions and published them under the title «Brahms in the Meininger Tradition». Thomas Zehetmair now also calls on this tradition. Brahms from a modern, authentic perspective: «This Meininger concept is particularly interesting as it opens doors instead of closing them», says Thomas Zehetmair. «New findings make the sum greater than its parts!»

I’d like to make the reader aware of another lovely rarity. In a Midi Musical, Brahms’ first symphony – the one containing the famed alphorn solo from the Bern alps – could be heard in an edition for piano with four hands, arranged by Brahms himself. On the piano: the renowned piano duo Adrienne Soós and Ivo Haag. Obviously, Brahms appreciated his piano rendition: «Das Kettermäng [à quatre mains] ist eine Pracht!»

(From the program, with permission – the festival took place from May 29 – June 2 2019 in Winterthur. Pictures: Mark Walder)

Brahms arrangements for viola



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