Friday, May 8, 2015

En récital: Kempff & Brahms

No. 197 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s piano recital features selections from the Johannes Brahms piano catalog, performed by the late great German pianist, Wilhelm Kempff.

In spite of his great output as a composer, and in spite of the fact Brahms was known as an excellent pianist (and a close friendship with one of the greatest pianists of his time in Clara Schumann), his catalog doesn't offer much for the piano. There are (early) piano sonatas, sets of virtuoso variations and – of course – his 21 Hungarian Dances for piano 4-hands, but little else. We find a number of ballads, rhapsodies, two piano concertos and a handful of piano collections – sets of four to eight piano pieces or klavierstucke.

Today’s podcast features three of these sets of pieces – two sets of 8 klavierstucke and a set of sevem fantasies.

A champion of the German Romantic piano repertoire, Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) was particularly well known for his interpretations of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. He recorded the complete collection of their piano sonatas. He is considered to have been one of the chief exponents of the Germanic tradition during the 20th century and one of the greatest pianists of all time.
When pianist Artur Schnabel undertook his pioneering complete recording of the Beethoven sonatas in the 1930s, he told EMI that if he didn't complete the cycle, they should have Kempff complete the remainder - even though the two pianists took noticeably different approaches to the composer (for example, Schnabel preferred extremely fast or slow tempos, while Kempff preferred moderate ones). Later, when Kempff was in Finland, the composer Jean Sibelius asked him to play the slow movement of Beethoven's 29th Sonata, the Hammerklavier; after Kempff finished, Sibelius told him, "You did not play that as a pianist but rather as a human being."

As a performer Kempff stressed lyricism and spontaneity in music, particularly effective in intimate pieces or passages. He always strove for a singing, lyrical quality. He avoided extreme tempos and display for its own sake.

I think you will love this music too!