Johannes Brahms

Waltzes (16) for piano, 4 hands (or piano), Op. 39

    Description by John Palmer

    Composed in January 1865, the Waltzes, Op. 39 are dedicated to Dr. Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904), a famous Viennese music critic who championed the music of Schumann and Brahms and was pleased to find, "no narcissistic affectation" in Brahms' piano music. Publication of the Waltzes was by J. Reiter-Biedermann in both Leipzig and Winterthur, the four-hand version appearing first (1866), the two-hand version second (1867).

    At the time Brahms composed the Waltzes, Op. 39, he had taken up residence in Vienna, but still hoped to obtain a permanent position in Hamburg. The Waltzes are a tribute to both the dance form for which Vienna had become famous and the music of Schubert, one of Vienna's native sons. Not long before composing his Waltzes, Brahms had begun editing and arranging Schubert's dance music.

    The limitations of the waltz form forced Brahms' creativity to find other means of expression, particularly in harmonic manipulation, making each of the sixteen Waltzes a gem. However, nearly all of them possess a few common characteristics, such as a rounded binary form in which the first half moves to a new key and the "recapitulating" second half begins with a quasi-developmental segment before returning to the main theme and the home key. Many display the harmonic invention and subtlety that mark Brahms' later piano works as well as the large-scale structures of the 1860s.

    Most of the Waltzes are in "sharp" keys (No. 6 is in C sharp major, as "sharp" as possible), which Brahms then colors by venturing into "flat" harmonies. Neighboring Waltzes are generally in keys a third or fifth apart, and are sometimes related through parallel major or minor, such as Nos. 6 and 7.

    It is enlightening to examine one of the Waltzes in detail. In No. 12, in E major, the four-measure main theme consists of a descending step in the highest voice. The next few measures are really a variation of this tune, nestled in a middle voice and developed in an eighth note turning figure that moves to the dominant before a full repetition. What seems like a return to the opening in the second half is actually developmental because it is in E minor and consists of repetitions of the first two measures, not the entire theme. After modulating to F major (the Neapolitan, a powerfully expressive harmony in E minor), Brahms stealthily makes his way back to the major mode and the second half of the theme, although when E major appears it acts as the dominant of A major-the wrong key. There is no cadence on E major until the last few beats of the piece.

    Brahms employs a similar harmonic procedure in the recapitulation of No. 1, in which the entire theme returns, literally, in the wrong key. Here however, the developmental portion of the second half is clearly so, repeating the theme's eighth note turning figure over several harmonies. Perhaps most peculiar is No. 9, which begins in D minor, moves to D major and closes on A major.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1 in B major. Tempo giusto
    2. No. 2 in E major
    3. No. 3 in G sharp minor
    4. No. 4 in E minor. Poco sostenuto
    5. No. 5 in E major. Grazioso
    6. No. 6 in C sharp major. Vivace
    7. No. 7 in C sharp minor. Poco più andante
    8. No. 8 in B flat major
    9. No. 9 in D minor
    10. No. 10 in G major
    11. No. 11 in B minor
    12. No. 12 in E major
    13. No. 13 in B major
    14. No. 14 in G sharp minor
    15. No. 15 in A flat major
    16. No. 16 in C sharp minor

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Centaur / Centaur Records CRC 3512
    2016 Schaaf Records SR 102
    2016 ATMA Classique ACD 22710
    2016 BIS BIS 2127
    2015 Icsm ICSM 001
    2015 Decca 002369302
    2015 Appian / APR (Appian) APR 6017
    2014 Blue Griffin Recording BG 329
    2014 Danacord DACOCD 746
    2013 Signum Classics SIGCD 365
    2013 MDG MDGSC 9041810
    2012 Connoisseur Society CD 4267
    2012 Sony Classical 88691928062
    2012 Atoll ACD 208
    2011 Opening Day Recordings ODR 7415
    2011 Nimbus NI 2578
    2011 CRD Records CRD 2416
    2011 Fuga Libera 577
    2010 Berlin Classics 0016652
    2010 Naxos 8578075-76
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926430
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Arte Nova Classics 974330
    2009 Thorofon Classics / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Decca / Universal Classics & Jazz 4763216
    2008 Harmonia Mundi 902015
    2008 Thorofon / Zebralution
    2008 Blue Saphir 1014
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2008 Brilliant 93165
    2007 Naïve V 5104
    2007 Koch Schwann 31411-2
    2007 Urania 4259
    2007 Naxos 8570290
    2006 Brilliant Classics 99668
    2005 RCA Red Seal 67887
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 86869
    2005 EMI Classics 5868682
    2005 Brilliant 92182
    2005 Classical Records 066
    2004 Music & Arts 1132
    2004 Brilliant 92392
    2004 Ondine 1044
    2004 Vox 3612
    2003 EMI Classics 585165
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Arte Nova Classics 74321974332
    2003 Col Legno 20103
    2001 Naïve V4892
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 569311
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 573790
    2001 Summit Records 184
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 566425
    2000 Koch Schwann 314112
    2000 Arkadia 78570
    2000 Naxos 8501201
    2000 Connoisseur Society 4222
    2000 Claves 508710
    1999 The Piano Library 221
    1999 Vox 5176
    1999 Agora Musica 169
    1999 EBS 6098
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 72821
    1999 Opal 9858
    1997 Naxos 8 553139
    1997 London 455347
    1997 Sony Classical 63225
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449 623-2GJB9
    1995 Nimbus 1788
    1995 Naxos 553426
    1995 Elan Recordings 2200
    1995 APR (Appian) APR 7029
    1994 MusicMasters 67126
    1994 Sony Classical 53285
    1994 Naxos 550355
    1994 CRD Records 3413
    1994 Biddulph Recordings 019
    1993 Dorian 90141
    Eufoda 1238
    Eurodisc 69245
    Brilliant Classics 93554/24
    Rem 311082
    Brilliant Classics 93554/7
    Brilliant 92392/4
    Brilliant 93165/4
    Brilliant Classics 99668/21
    Digital Masterworks 71812
    Brilliant 92182/1
    Eurodisc 69250
    Vox 8177
    Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 920
    Philips 420750
    Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 30105
    JVC Compact Discs 6507
    London 430053
    Erato 98476
    Carlton Classics 01742
    Memories 4442