Brahms, Elgar, and Music through Grief

posted on   by  Loi Heldt

by Adrian Hsieh


As I read through the details of Brahms’s life, I found some pieces of information quite fascinating. As it turns out, in the 1860s, just around the time when the Sextet was written, young Brahms was not having much success. In addition to a failed relationship and the death of his friend and colleague Robert Schumann, Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was met with terrible reception. Interestingly enough, Brahms didn’t seem to use the Sextet as an opportunity to express his anguish, as many composers did. The only movement that seems to reflect this emotion at all is the second movement, which, fun fact, he rewrote as a piano arrangement for Clara Schumann.


This idea of expressing through music reminded me of Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto I had played recently. Elgar, a huge admirer of Brahms, was similarly in a difficult spot in his life. The composition of this particular concerto contains a beautiful, grief-stricken melody that really pulls on the listener’s heartstrings. Last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity of playing this magnificent piece with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Vancouver, B.C.  Different from my other performances, what made this opportunity so special was that I played in an outdoor concert by Deer Lake in the beautiful Burnaby park in front of an audience of over 12,000.


As for the Brahms Sextet in B flat major, one of my favorite moments in this work is the melody in the fourth movement. The movement starts with a cello solo, which I will play, that is then passed around between instruments. 


I am extremely excited to play this wonderful piece with the members of Amici, my cello teacher, and my sister, who is about to leave for college.