Program Notes

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)

HUNGARIAN DANCES, WoO 1, Nos. 6, 8, 7, 4, & 5

You might not be aware of it, but you already know many of these Hungarian Dances. I’ve recently heard them live in a market on an island off the Italian coast, in a coffee shop in Halifax, and with accordion on the E train on the Upper West Side (apparently there are no pianos allowed on the subway). Composing music is rarely lucrative, but here Brahms struck gold. The proceeds from these dances, transcribed for other instruments and even orchestra, enabled him to focus his attention elsewhere.

Duo Q & A have selected five favorites from the full set of twenty-one. Brahms doesn’t give much instruction to the performers, but it is understood that, like their Hungarian and gypsy roots, interpretation should be idiosyncratic and very personal. The intense emotions can have a sense of hyperbole about them – tragic, sure, but a little funny at the same time. This is very different from the genuine anguish of the Schubert Fantasia, written by a dying composer. Curiously, the prevalence of syncopation (off-beats) with unusually catchy melodies was hugely influential for ragtime musicians like Scott Joplin.

Program notes by David Yang