A new CD has been published by Romantic Discoveries Recordings.
The Circle of Brahms, vol. 6
John Kersey, piano
Total time: 73 minutes 41 seconds
1. August Bungert (1845-1915): Aus meinem Wanderbuch: Unter Palmen (Bordighera), op. 53 no 1
2. Bungert: Variations and Fugue on an original theme, op. 13
3. Woldemar Bargiel (1828-97): Nachtstück, op. 2
Bungert: Albumblätter: Characterstücke, op. 9 book II
4. Allegro moderato, op. 9 no. 4 5. Andante, op. 9 no. 5 6. Moderato, op. 9 no. 6
7. Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900): Eight Variations, op. 3
8. Ernst Rudorff (1840-1916): Impromptu, op. 51
The quintessential German Romantic, August Bungert, a pupil of Friedrich Kiel, came to the attention of Brahms when his Piano Quartet, op. 18, was awarded the Florentine Quartet Prize in 1877, the judges being Brahms and Robert Volkmann. This success proved extremely important for Bungert, since it provided him with the means to move to Italy, where he formed significant connexions with Verdi and Friedrich Nietzsche (who was his neighbour). Here also he met the Queen of Romania, known in artistic circles by the name Carmen Sylva, who became his patron, providing him with a Bechstein grand piano, a house, and organising a group of supporters known as the Bungert-Bund. In return, Bungert set many of her poems to music (composing some 362 songs in all), and also began to work on a series of epic operas. Although seen initially as an opposing pole to Wagner, Bungert became increasingly influenced by him, and his operas treat the world of Homer in the same way as Wagner’s own operas on mythic subjects.
Earlier on, it had been Brahms who had been Bungert’s stylistic model. His major set of Variations, op. 13, can be considered a response to Brahms’ own works in that form but attempts a more contemporary symphonic style, with many striking moments and a crowning fugue that is complex both technically and musically. The neglect of this work is difficult to understand; in post-war Germany Bungert was considered the inferior of Wagner, but nowadays we can see his work for its individual qualities rather than merely in comparison with others.
Woldemar Bargiel was not a prolific composer, but his works deserve greater attention than the almost complete neglect they fell into in the years immediately following his death. Similarly, if he is known at all these days, it is as the half-brother of Clara Schumann (as a result of her mother’s second marriage to music teacher Adolf Bargiel), with the implication that not only was the success of his career due to this connexion (which was undoubtedly the case) but also that such reputation that he enjoyed was merely the result of this nepotism (which was certainly not so).
Bargiel studied under Moscheles, Hauptmann, Rietz and Gade at the Leipzig Conservatoire (being noted among the younger generation in Schumann’s Neue Bahnen in 1853) and from 1859 took up a teaching position as a theorist at the conservatoire in Köln. 1866 saw him move to Rotterdam where he concentrated on conducting and musical direction, and 1874 (at the invitation of Joachim) back to Berlin (where he had taught privately throughout the 1850s) as professor of composition at the Royal Hochschule. He attained the peak of professional recognition as a senator of the Akademie der Künste, teaching up until his death at the age of sixty-nine.
Bargiel’s well-crafted and distinctive music enjoyed wide popularity during his lifetime. As well as piano music, he wrote a number of chamber works, songs, and orchestral pieces. His Notturnos date from 1853 and show a command of the Gothic style he had inherited from Schumann, but in the first, particularly, adding a rhetorical element that creates an individual impression.
Ernst Rudorff studied piano under Woldemar Bargiel and then entered the Leipzig Conservatoire under Moscheles, Plaidy and Rietz. He undertook further study with Hauptmann and Reinecke. Appointment as professor of piano at the Cologne Conservatoire in 1865 was followed by the senior piano position at the Berlin Hochschule between 1869 and his retirement in 1910. A prolific composer, arranger and editor, Rudorff was a friend of both Brahms and Joachim.
Heinrich von Herzogenberg studied composition under Dessoff and, influenced by his studies of Bach, became an ardent admirer of Brahms. He married one of Brahms’s piano pupils, and it is suggested by some that Brahms’s resentment of this union played a part in his generally curmudgeonly attitude towards Herzogenberg. In 1872, Herzogenberg moved to Leipzig where, along with Philip Spitta, he founded the Leipzig Bach-Verein, which did much to revive Bach’s cantatas. From 1885 he was professor of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and in his last years, although a Roman Catholic, composed extensively for the Lutheran church. Herzogenberg’s works include several important pieces for solo piano and piano four hands. His early Variations, op. 3, show an ambitious young composer with plenty to say, and suggest that he had absorbed much of the Brahmsian style.