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Frei aber einsam and Frei aber froh

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Title : Frei aber einsam and Frei aber froh
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Frei aber einsam and Frei aber froh

A couple of weeks ago I attended a chamber music recital that began with a lovely piece by Brahms, a scherzo, that was originally part of a rather odd piece written by three composers: Brahms, Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich. It was a 21st birthday present for their mutual friend the violinist Joseph Joachim. Brahms contributed the scherzo movement and Schumann and Dietrich the other three movements of a four movement sonata for violin and piano. The sonata is often referred to as the "F-A-E" sonata because each movement uses the musical motif FAE which stands for a phrase in German that Brahms and Joachim adopted as a mutual pact: "frei aber einsam" which means "free but lonely" or "free but alone." The idea was that in order to fulfill one's potential as an artist one had to remain free from the bonds of marriage and other social institutions. While Brahms stuck to the pact, Joachim did not and fell in love with a soprano whom he married.

Brahms had an interesting counter to the motto: "frei aber froh" which means "free but happy." His Symphony No. 3 uses this as a musical motif as well in the form F A flat F. Now not all artists and musicians have wrestled with the potential conflicts between the demands of art and social traditions, not to mention sexual attraction. The Spanish opera singer Teresa Berganza has three children that she raised while pursuing an active career and there are a host of other examples. J. S. Bach was married twice and had thirteen children! But the sense that art is the kind of demanding vocation, like the Catholic priesthood, that may indeed require, if not actual celibacy, then something approaching it, has been around since the Romantic era. And modernism has not quite killed it off!

I have felt this in my personal life and although I married, we did not have children, something I sometimes regret! Especially living in Mexico where the second question people ask you, after your name, is "how many children do you have?" Artists often have a complex relationship with the wider society and I guess this is just one aspect of it.

Now let's listen. First, the scherzo for violin and piano which is catalogued as Sonatensatz, Woo2 (which means "Werk ohne opus." Maxim Bengerov is accompanied by Vahagn Papaian. Love the hemiolas.

And here is the Symphony No. 3 with Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony:

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