Brahms and the Waltz King

Autumn concert weekend with Hengelbrock

Photo that shows Hengelbrock 2016 C Florence Grandidier. © Florence Grandidier
© Florence Grandidier

It is a peculiar elective affinity: the admiration the musically so serious North German Johannes Brahms held for the Viennese Johann Strauss. This high regard was mutual. The Waltz King, who toured the musical centers of Europe – Baden-Baden naturally being among them, to which a plaque on the concert pavilion in the Kurpark bears testimony – and who conducted his works in the USA before massive orchestras and choirs that he himself had assembled, wrote to a publisher in 1981: “Johannes Brahms must be given a dedication, a waltz of my composition. I want to make this waltz popular, but still peppered and spiced.” On Saturday, October 31 at 4pm and Sunday, November 1 at 11am, Thomas Hengelbrock will be performing the waltz dedicated to Brahms with the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble in a program featuring soprano Katharina Konradi, who will sing arias from the Strauss operettas Wiener Blut and Die Tänzerin Fanny Elßler. At the end we will hear Brahms's Third Symphony. The fact that Strauss chose “Seid umschlungen, Millionen” (Be embraced, millions) as the waltz’s title is not without irony. Brahms suffered throughout his lifetime from the overpowering shadow of Beethoven. When Strauss quotes Schiller's “Ode to Joy” in the waltz dedicated to him, Brahms may well have seen this as a friendly tip: "Forget Beethoven and the Ninth – look at this, it can also be easy!'"

Brahms, in fact, never made it easy for himself; he studied the Old Masters and meticulously tried to live up to the burden of this inheritance. And yet he achieved many a breakthrough to modernity, which even an innovator like Arnold Schoenberg admired in him. In the first of his autumn concerts on Thursday, October 30, 2020, Hengelbrock will conduct the Deutsches Requiem with the Balthasar Neumann Choir and Balthasar Neumann Orchestra. The soloists will be Katharina Konradi and Matthias Goerne. In this large-scale work, Brahms created a Protestant musical declaration of emancipation: with self-chosen biblical texts, he found a path away from ritual and towards a "mature" mourning and consolation.

Looking for the new in the old is something for which Thomas Hengelbrock has always had a keen sense, making him one of the most interesting Brahms conductors. As an important representative of historically informed performance practice, he has been questioning listening habits for decades in order to truly justice to the work. The choice of historically appropriate instruments and a critical study of the scores are the bare minimum. For Hengelbrock, it is equally important to establish connections and to demonstrate the simultaneity of the dissimilar. Or to highlight the dissimilarity that prevents one from lumping works together simply because they originate from the same era.

Interviews with Thomas Hengelbrock are rare, but his concerts are all the more eloquent. This evening, featuring works by Brahms and Johann Strauss, tells us much about the composers’ longings during their lifetimes: Brahms’s longing for melody and Strauss's longing for recognition by "serious" composers and critics. It tells us about the inspiration both composers drew from “folk” sources. And the craftsmanship with which they translated it into their own genres of art music. On top of this, it tells a story of Baden-Baden, since both composers enjoyed coming here often: Brahms because he sought proximity to Clara Schumann and the solitude of the Black Forest, and Strauss because he enjoyed the appreciation of high society, the bourgeoisie, artists, and aristocrats who made pilgrimages here year after year.

Photo that shows Hengelbrock 2016 C Florence Grandidier.
Fri 30.10.20 Thomas Hengelbrock I

J. Brahms: A German Requiem

Photo that shows Balthasar Neumann Chor® Florence Grandidier.
Sat 31.10.20 Thomas Hengelbrock II

Program change: Johannes Brahms Third Symphony with the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble

Photo that shows Katharina Konradi 11 C Simon Pauly.
Sun 01.11.20 Thomas Hengelbrock III

Program change: Johannes Brahms Third Symphony with the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble

Updated: 11/6/2020