Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel op. 24
These variations display Brahms's dedication, in every sense, to Clara Schumann, who gave their first public performance. The Handel aria may even have been chosen for its enigmatic left-hand Clara theme D-C-B flat-A-B flat. No doubt the liebe Freundin was also pictured within this unique framework of toccata and love-lyric. The Henle edition is in most respects exemplary. The five sources (first autograph, printer's copy, first edition, two revisions) have been minutely examined and meticulously collated. But of course the practical results are rather slight, and the arguments themselves occasionally seem somewhat slender. Thus we are told that the changes made by Brahms in the proofs have been retained; but in that case what is the authority for reverting to the printer's copy staccato on the first notes in bars 166 and 168 (Variation XVIII), the omission of which from the first edition is presumably attributable to the composer's own deletion at proof stage? But there is also much evidence of deep delving and sharp insight, such as the incorporation here of Brahms's second thoughts on bar 272 (i.e. 27 of the fugue), though one may regret the loss of the left-hand arpeggios. As usual, the rigorous editorial work is rather let down by the inadequate English translation. Is there no one at Henle who understands or cares for such things?
The Musical Times, Feb., 1980 (p. 112) © the estate of eric sams