Volume 20 of our Romantic Piano Concerto series features Ignaz Brüll's two Piano Concertos and the Andante and Allegro, Op 88. The first of the concertos was amazingly composed when Brüll was just 15, the second when he was 22.
A very well respected pianist, Brüll was noted for his sympathetic insight into the essence of a work, which only a virtuoso who is a creative artist can possess. Colleagues such as Franz Liszt, Anton Rubenstein and Clara Schumann, as well as many critics, regarded him as one of the leading exponents of his craft. As a composer, he stood firmly within the tradition of the conservative, Classical school. In the language of the time, this tradition was described as being 'in the direction of Schumann and Mendelssohn'. Its most distinguishing features were a clear awareness of form based on Classical models, and a measured form of expression which shunned excess and exaggeration.
The Andante and Allegro and First Piano Concerto here receive their first recordings.
From today's perspective the musical history of the nineteenth century appears to reduce itself to a few big names whose works still continue to dominate our concert halls and opera houses. But appearance and reality are far apart: the everyday music of the epoch and contemporary taste were in fact shaped by a large number of finely trained composers, most of whom have left little behind but their name, even though in their own time they ranked as artists of international stature. One such was Ignaz Brüll.
If Brüll is not wholly forgotten today, there are two main reasons: first, the enormous success of his opera Das goldene Kreuz, first performed in 1875, which overshadowed all the rest of his compositions; and secondly, his membership of Brahms’s circle in Vienna. Yet it was precisely this closeness to Brahms which proved his undoing. Though on the one hand it did at least ensure the survival of dry biographical facts, on the other it prevented a proper evaluation of Brüll as an independent artist. As with all composers in Brahms’s circle of friends in Vienna, aesthetic judgement of their works was replaced by the identification of greater or lesser distances from the Master. Brüll in particular, who pursued completely different artistic aims from Brahms, provided the latter’s biographers with a welcome foil against whom the object of their veneration could stand forth in even more glittering contrast. This eventually led to his totally unjust neglect today.
Ignaz Brüll was born on 7 November 1846 as the eldest son of a prosperous Jewish merchant family in the Moravian provincial town of Prossnitz (Prostejov). In 1850 he moved with his parents to Vienna which became the centre of his life and work. Brüll was originally destined to take over his father’s business, but because of his precocious gifts he also received a thorough musical education. He studied the piano with Julius Epstein, and composition with Johann Rufinatscha and Felix Otto Dessoff. An enthusiastic assessment when he was fourteen years old from Anton Rubinstein proved the decisive factor in his dedication to a musical career.
In 1864 he wrote his first opera, Die Bettler von Samarkand, and submitted it to the Court Theatre in Stuttgart, capital of Württemberg. At the end of 1866 he went there to supervise the production in person. Sadly his plans came to nothing and the score disappeared into the archives. Brüll nevertheless achieved significant successes with his First Serenade for Orchestra and with performances at the piano.
In the next fifteen years he made numerous concert tours which took him not only to musical centres such as Prague, Breslau, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Dresden and Leipzig, but also to the remotest areas of the Hapsburg monarchy and of Germany. Between tours he gave regular concerts in Vienna. In 1871 he was offered a Professorship for Piano at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, which he refused to avoid separation from his family. He taught from 1872 at the Horák Piano Schools, one of Vienna’s greatest private musical institutions, and became their artistic director in 1881. In the 1890s he refused an appointment to the Vienna Conservatory.
The sensational success of his second opera, Das goldene Kreuz, first performed on 22 December 1875 in Berlin, propelled Brüll from nowhere into the foremost ranks of contemporary composers. It also boosted his career as a pianist. The London publisher William Chappell engaged him early in 1878 for two concerts in England. At the same time the impresario Carl Rosa was preparing a production of Das goldene Kreuz, which had its London premiere at the Adelphi Theatre on 2 March. On 28 January Brüll made his debut in a ‘Monday Popular Concert’ which was such a success that it was followed by more than twenty further appearances in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Of his own works Brüll was able to secure performances of the Second Piano Concerto, the First Serenade, and other chamber and piano works.
He visited England again in 1881, between 31 January and 9 March, and gave eight concerts with the usual good response. Of his own compositions he gave the First Piano Concerto, the overture Macbeth, Op 46, the Op 14 Piano Trio and many works for piano.
The two concert tours to England marked the highest points in Brüll’s career as a virtuoso. In the following years he sharply reduced the number of his public performances to concentrate more on composition. After his marriage in 1882 to Marie Schosberg, the daughter of a Viennese banker, his house became a social focus in the city. He built up a large circle of friends, including Johannes Brahms, Carl Goldmark, Julius Epstein, Robert Fuchs, Anton Door, Richard Heuberger, Ludwig Rottenberg, Richard von Perger, Eusebius Mandyczewski, Eduard Hanslick, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Billroth, Joseph Breuer and others. He spent the summer months with his family in Upper Austria, initially in Ischl, and from 1890 in Unterach on the Attersee where he built his own holiday home, the ‘Berghof’. This too became a magnet for musicians, artists and literary figures.
As a composer Brüll remained faithful to the models which had brought him success in his early years, and flatly refused to have anything to do with new developments. He thereby placed himself in growing opposition to his time, but he nevertheless received many tributes on 7 November 1906, the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. When he unexpectedly died only a few months later, on 17 September 1907, the public mourned him as a serious musician whose artistic endeavours had always shown integrity and sincerity. Das goldene Kreuz kept his name alive for the following decades, until the Nazi ban on all Jewish artists finally swept it from the stage.
Although towards the end of his life Brüll’s position as a composer was undoubtedly contested, as a pianist he received unalloyed respect. Colleagues such as Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and Clara Schumann, as well as many critics, regarded him as one of the leading exponents of his craft. His standing as an interpreter of Beethoven, Schumann and, later, Brahms was unchallenged. Brüll was above all noted for his sympathetic insight into the essence of a work, which only a virtuoso who is also a creative artist can possess. On top of this he had extraordinary technical power, which never became an end in itself or exhibited itself through flashy gestures. For this reason the critic Richard Specht described Brüll’s piano playing as ‘the purest, most complete re-creation without any virtuoso additions’. So it was no wonder that Brahms wanted to be sure that his works would be performed first of all by Brüll. Brahms had also formed the habit of playing all his larger works first to a selected group of critics and friends. For orchestral works this required the compromise solution of a four-handed performance on two pianos. Brüll was always brought in as his partner for these trial performances, not least because his phenomenal sight-reading ability made any preparation unnecessary. The four symphonies and the B flat major Piano Concerto were all first played in this way to small audiences.
Even when Brüll increasingly withdrew from the concert platform and restricted his appearances to the bare minimum, his reputation as a pianist hardly suffered. Particularly in his specialist areas, he had no reason to fear comparison with the brilliant younger generation of virtuosos. In Richard Specht’s judgment: ‘For all Rubinstein’s more powerful temperament, d’Albert’s inspired furioso, Busoni’s interpretative power, Rosenthal’s penetrating intellect and quite incredible technique, I have not heard one of them play the late Beethoven sonatas more powerfully or transparently, Schumann more profoundly or passionately, or Brahms more clearly, forcefully or romantically, than Brüll.’
As a composer Brüll stood firmly within the tradition of the conservative-classical school, as definitively established by Moritz Hauptmann and Julius Rietz in Leipzig. In the language of the time this tradition was described as being ‘in the direction of Schumann and Mendelssohn’. Its most distinguishing features were a clear awareness of form based on Classical models, and a measured form of expression which shunned excess and exaggeration. The catalogue of Brüll’s published works includes more than a hundred opus numbers. About the same number of works have survived in manuscript. He wrote eleven sound, largely very stageworthy operas, though of these only Das goldene Kreuz has really established itself. In addition he wrote the ballet Ein Märchen aus der Champagne, one symphony, three orchestral serenades, three overtures, two piano concertos, a rhapsody and two concert pieces for piano and orchestra, a violin concerto, a piano sonata, a sonata for two pianos, four piano suites and many other piano works of high quality. In the field of chamber music there are a piano trio, a sonata for cello and piano, and a suite and four sonatas for violin and piano, of which the third in E minor (Op 81) was thought by his contemporaries to be the best violin sonata after Brahms. His wide range of songs is also worth attention.
Brüll’s works—if considered outside the context of their own time, and especially if freed from competition with Brahms—contain many elements whose convincing technical quality and tasteful melodic composition could help to combat the narrowness of concert programmes of today. The present recording brings together the two piano concertos, and the Konzertstück (Andante and Allegro) for piano and orchestra, Op 88. The three works provide a very vivid impression of Brüll’s art.
The Piano Concerto No 1 in F major, Op 10, was Brüll’s first work to include the orchestra. It was written in 1860/1 and given its first performance in 1861 in Vienna by his teacher Julius Epstein, to whom it is dedicated. Brüll naturally included it in his own repertoire and played it, for example, in 1869 in a Philharmonic Concert in Vienna, in 1871 in Berlin, and in 1881 in Liverpool, Manchester (both under the baton of Charles Hallé) and London. Richard Hoffmann made it popular in America in the 1880s. Given his youth. Brüll already showed remarkable skill in this concerto, both in handling the orchestra and in working out the form. The first movement (Allegro moderato in F major) is typical of Brüll’s way of dealing with the form of the principal movement of a sonata. The dominating first subject, which shifts between F major and D minor, is rhythmic rather than melodic in character. The transition on the other hand contains two episodes of thematic quality which gain in significance as the movement progresses. The second subject (piano dolce), pitched in the dominant of C major, is introduced by the piano and taken up by the oboe and flute. In the exposition the main theme dominates, but an appassionato variation of the second subject in A major provides a charming contrast. The repeat is along orthodox lines, and the movement is rounded off with a virtuoso cadenza and a presto stretta.
The second movement (Andante: Molto espressivo in D minor) is the heart of the concerto. The soloist opens with a deeply felt cantabile melody with slightly oriental colouring. In the more turbulent middle section the orchestra joins in. A short cadenza leads to the repeat of the first subject, which is now played in octaves by the soloist.
The Finale (Presto in F major) is a rondo, with a dance-like subject in 6/8 contrasted with two rhythmically interesting interludes in 2/4 time. An extended coda (Presto assai) leads the movement to the final climax. What an astonishing exhibition of talent for a fifteen-year-old!
Brüll completed the Piano Concerto No 2 during the summer of 1868 in Baden near Vienna. The first performance, with the composer at the keyboard, took place on 20 October 1868 in Altenburg (Thüringen). Although the work was well received by the public, Brüll entirely reworked the second movement. It was first heard in this final version on 7 January 1869 in the Leipzig Gewandhaus. To the composer’s disappointment the main movement aroused little enthusiasm. The conductor Carl Reinecke attributed this to its being four bars too short so that the sudden ending took the public by surprise. But the other two movements went down better, and the concerto soon enjoyed great popularity. Brüll himself played it in 1874 in Vienna, Breslau and Berlin, in 1877 in Frankfurt and Munich, on 5 February 1878 in Liverpool (under Sir Julius Benedict) and on 23 February 1878 in the Crystal Palace in London. In 1883 it again featured in a programme of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and in 1884 it formed part of a Philharmonic Concert in Vienna (with Hans Richter on the podium). The publishing house Bote & Bock of Berlin acquired the rights (which they already had in the First Concerto) in 1875 and published it as Opus 24. after which many other pianists took it into their repertoire.
The Second Piano Concerto shows Brüll’s strongest side as an inspired writer of melody. The structure of the first movement (Allegro moderato in C major) is reminiscent of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The soloist introduces the theme (in the unusual time of 12/8) before the orchestra takes it up and develops it. Here too the transition contains episodes of thematic quality from which the second subject, in the subdominant key of F major, grows organically. The exposition is longer and more masterly than that of the First Concerto. The repeat exactly mirrors the course of the exposition, and is followed by a brilliant coda which emphatically reinforces the main theme.
The second movement (Andante ma non troppo in F major) has the characteristics of an abbreviated main movement of a sonata without an exposition. The first subject, introduced by lower strings and bassoons, is pushed aside by a more lively (Poco animato) and rhythmically accentuated theme in C major. After a slightly different recapitulation of this, a solo cadenza leads directly into the finale (Allegro in C major) for which the composer again chose rondo form. The main theme, whose pointed rhythm evokes memories of Meyerbeer, is contrasted with a Scherzando in G major and a march-like episode in A minor. A coda, built up with skilful dramatic effect, ends the concerto with a triumphant gesture.
Brüll’s two piano concertos are youthful works, written between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. They do, however, clearly show a stage in his development as a composer, particularly in his more secure handling of form and material. In later years Brüll did not return to the classical type of piano concerto, but he composed three further works for piano and orchestra: the Opus 65 Rhapsody (c1892/3), an unpublished Konzertstück in one movement in the key of B flat major (probably 1895), and the Konzertstück (Andante and Allegro), Op 88, written in 1902. On 12 January 1903 the composer himself launched the latter work in a Philharmonic Concert in Vienna. Four days later he played it again in Stuttgart. The Andante (the exact marking is Andante moderato, con moto) borrows the motif from a song of Brüll’s, which exists only in manuscript, entitled ‘And if you were at the world’s end’, with a text by Jehuda ben Halevy. A solo cadenza forms a bridge to the rondo (Allegro). After the first performance Max Kalbeck described the work in a review for the Neue Wiener Tagblatt of 13 January 1903 as follows:
In the beautiful Andante, full of gentle orchestral colour, we wander among the German pine forests, several times hearing the ominous rustle of cedars of Lebanon from distant times. The composer celebrates his morning worship alone until the cheerful Allegro leads him back to the bustle of happy people. He has withdrawn from them only to return with almost childlike boisterousness. The rondo subject in A minor is like a lively wild creature which is captured and tamed by the counterpoint.
'The most enjoyable and successful pair of revivals since Stephen Hough's award-winning resurrection of Sauer's No 1 and Scharwenka's 4th. Life-enhancing minor masterpieces in superb sound and dashing, committed performances' (Classic CD)
'All of the music on this disc is absolutely delightful' (Fanfare, USA)
'This is a welcome discovery or recovery for lovers of Romantic music' (Contemporary Review)