While most people are familiar with the revised 1889 version of Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, violinist Joshua Bell’s new album, For the Love of Brahms, presents the original, 1854 version. The recording, which you can sample below, also features cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk
The trio was written when a 20 year old Brahms fell in love with his friend’s, Robert Schumann’s, wife: Clara Schumann. In a recent interview, Bell explained why he was shocked by Brahms’ original version of the Piano Trio in B Major and how the piece relates to the Double Concerto in a minor, which is also featured on the album.
How did your collaborations begin with Steven Isserlis and Jeremy Denk?
I met Steven Isserlis over 30 years ago at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. We were just thrown together in some chamber groups, which is what happens at these festivals. Sometimes, you just hit it off musically and personally. We argued plenty, and we still do! He’s a very serious musician, and he knows what he wants. But I’ve learned so much from him, from arguing. I’ve learned about music and the way it should go.
With the Brahms Double Concerto, Steven was the first person I ever played it with. It took about 30 years before I felt that I get this piece and know it well enough to put on a disc. I finally had the right collaboration with the orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and Steven. All the stars aligned.
Jeremy Denk is my other chamber music partner who I play with the most after Steven. He’s a great musician and an intellect, and I love playing with him. We’re not a trio that performs regularly on the circuit, but we thought it’d be a great idea for all of us to collaborate.
How did you become acquainted with the original version of the Piano Trio in B Major?
It was Steven Isserlis who said we should really take a look at the original version of the Piano Trio in B Major. Brahms composed it when he was just 20 years old. During this time, he met Robert and Clara Schumann, thanks to his friend Joseph Joachim. I was shocked, because it’s so raw. It’s a little less perfect and refined than the later version. It’s quite a bit longer, too. There are themes that were left on the cutting room floor when he revised it later in life. Perhaps because he felt it was very heart-on-sleeve and almost embarrassing, looking back at his 20 year old self with this emotion for Clara Schumann. I think it’s beautiful, and I’ve fallen in love with it. Brahms allowed for both versions to exist and never destroyed the original version – he probably had a fondness for it as well.
How does the 1854 Piano Trio relate to the Double Concerto in this album?
In Brahms’ life and in our recording, the pieces really are bookends. The Double Concerto is the last piece he wrote for orchestra, and the Op. 8 Trio he wrote when he was very young. Brahms, as we know, fell head over heels for Clara Schumann. It’s with this affection in heart when he wrote the Piano Trio at a young age. He wrote the Double Concerto for Joachim later in life as a sort of reconciliation gift because they had a falling out.
What does Brahms mean to you as a musician?
It’s hard to put into words – it’s like saying, “What does your mother mean to you?” [Laughs] I think Brahms is the epitome of integrity and seriousness in music, and depth and subtlety of feeling. His Violin Concerto, along with Beethoven’s, is one of the pillars of the repertoire. I started playing his chamber music when I was very young. He’s the kind of composer that you appreciate more and more when you get older.