Johannes Brahms

Sonata for cello & piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    The chamber music of Brahms has sometimes posed a challenge for music criticism. Even in his day, Robert Schumann claimed the exalted status of veiled symphonies for certain of Brahms' more intimate works (though some have pointed to chamber-esque qualities in his symphonic writing, as well). It does not help those trying to characterize this music that the typical Brahmsian mix of forward- and backward-looking elements also appear. His Sonata for Piano and Violoncello, Op. 38, presents just such a simultaneously progressive and elegaic face. He composed three movements in 1862, dedicating them to his friend and patron in Vienna, Joseph Gänsbacher, a singing teacher and cellist and a man instrumental in Brahms' appointment as director of the civic choir. Brahms rejected the Adagio he composed at this time (he may not have destroyed it, but rather recycled it in the Second Cello Sonata decades later), and added a fugal third movement to the first two in 1865. The resulting sonata is both sonorous and playful, progressive, and deeply rooted in the music of history.

    The opening movement of the Sonata for Piano and Violoncello (note the unusual featuring of the piano in the very title!) follows a mostly conventional sonata form. The principal theme darkly inhabits the resonant lower tones of the cello register and has sometimes been characterized as reminiscent of otherworldly fairy tales. Both Brahms' treatment of the principal thematic expositions and their later development frequently show his expansiveness of melodic vision, while maintaining both a close (though unhurried) adherence to the traditional form and a specific tie to the past: a thematic correspondence to the third Contrapunctus from J.S. Bach's Art of the Fugue. The middle movement shifts key to A minor and presents an almost Baroque minuet and trio. (Almost, because within the rigid refrain form Brahms allows the performers to harmonically meander a bit, and the trio involves a rather lavish expansion of the introductory four-note motive.) The final movement brings the tension between past and future into the sharpest relief: Brahms composes a fugue for the two instruments. On the one hand, a fugue remains a markedly historical form for a musician of his generation, and the Baroque ties are once again heightened by resemblance to a motive of Bach's. On the other hand, the harmonic character of the music, and the distinct difficulty of balancing the cello's single line against three "voices" in the keyboard, are all novelty.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro non troppo
    2. Allegretto quasi Menuetto - Trio
    3. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Resonus Classics RES 10188
    2017 Steinway & Sons STNS 30081
    2017 Naxos 8503293
    2017 Genuin GEN 17448
    2016 Mirare MIR 310
    2016 Decca
    2016 Mirare MIR 270
    2016 Alpha / Arena Classics 223
    2016 Somm SOMMCD 0158
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795964
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894795516
    2016 Doremi Records DHR 803839
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon
    2016 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] 8571319
    2016 EPR-Classic 21
    2016 Nimbus Alliance NI 6312
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Danacord DACOCD 738
    2015 Claves
    2015 Claves CD 501511
    2015 Evidence EVCD 012
    2015 Naxos 8573489
    2015 Bridge BRIDGE 9442
    2015 Zuk Records RN 481878
    2015 Delos DE 3480
    2015 Analekta AN 29994
    2015 Nimbus Alliance NI 6302
    2015 Naïve V 5387
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94934BR
    2015 Sony Classics 513074
    2015 Audite 21433
    2014 Gramola 99034
    2014 Avie AVR 2300
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793767
    2014 Es-Dur ES 2016
    2014 MSR Classics MD 1516
    2013 Capriccio Records C 5173
    2013 Entertainment Group 12809
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4790965
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 SOMM SOMM 0126
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2013 Sony Classical 88765438572
    2012 CAvi-music CAVI 8553270
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Coviello Classics COV 51204
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1001938
    2012
    Duo
    Deutsche Grammophon 4790090
    2012
    Duo
    Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2011 RCA Red Seal 886919369120
    2011 Orfeo 822101
    2011 JCL Records 516
    2011 Talent / Talent Records DOM 38111415
    2011 Centaur Records CRC 31403141
    2011 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099909636
    2011 Telarc Distribution 32664
    2011 Telarc Distribution TEL3266402
    2011 Telarc Distribution
    2011 Divox CDX 552572
    2011 Melodiya MELCD 1001860
    2011 UT3 Records / Zebralution
    2011 Centaur Records CRC3100
    2011 Documents 233080
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Artek 51
    2010 Hyperion 30005
    2010 BIS 1606
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Zuk Records 322
    2010 Gall (formerly Gallo) / Gallo 1305-07
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2010 X5 Music Group 15414
    2010 West Hill Radio Archives 6032
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 BBC Legends 4263
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    2008 Doremi Records 7931/2
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    2008 Warner Classics 4696330
    2008 Orion 83123
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 459677
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Ars Produktion 38015
    2008 Arte Nova 340430
    2008 Hyperion 44331/42
    2008 Biddulph Recordings 80226
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5627412
    2008 Doremi Records 7926
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2008 Rca Red Seal 88697201872
    2008 Centaur Records 2921
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    2007 Channel Classics 24707
    2007 Centaur Records 2878
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950416
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    2005 MDG 6431197
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    2005 Praga Digitals 250214
    2004 Divox CDX 29407
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62758
    2004 Audite 92516
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 57750
    2004 Rca Red Seal 59415
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    2002 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243557293
    2002 Live Classics 204
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    2000 Claves 509005
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    1998 RCA Red Seal 63267
    1998 Harmonia Mundi 911641
    1998 Philips 456402
    1998 Pearl 9293
    1998 Virgin 561415-2
    1998 Berlin Classics 0011 792BC
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56440
    1997 Law Records 014
    1997 Disques Pierre Verany 797021
    1997 Channel Classics 06
    1996 Mercury
    1996 Mercury 434 377-2MM
    1996 Philips 454 073-2PB11
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449611
    1996 Arcobaleno 93932
    1996 Chandos CHAN9479
    1996 RCA 68371
    1995 Erato 4509969502
    1995 RCA 62592
    1995 Analekta 3009
    1995 Gallo 675
    1994 Symposium 1140
    1994 Naxos 550656
    1994 Brioso Recordings 101
    1994 Channel Classics 5493
    1994 BIS 192
    1994 Virgin 545052
    1994 Kontrapunkt 32172
    1994 John Marks Records 5
    1993 Hyperion CDA66159
    1993 Dorian 90165
    1993 Crystal Records Dist. 638
    1993 Pearl 9443
    1991 Koch International Classics 37034-2
    1989 EMI 763298-2
    1983 Deutsche Grammophon 410510
    Live Classics 621
    Brilliant 92771/9
    Oasis Productions Limited
    Classical Records 045
    Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 10310
    EMI Music Distribution 557526
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