University of Leeds



8. Brahms Violin Sonata op. 108: an experimental response to historical evidence.

This recording was made in June 2013 by Clive Brown (violin) and Miaoyin Qu (piano), following a performance in the University of Leeds International Concert Series in December 2012 (see below for links to the performance). It draws upon Clive Brown's research into 19th-century performing practice and the evidence in the annotated editions on the CHASE website, and also upon Miaoyin Qu's practice-led PhD research into late 19th-century piano playing, begun in 2010. For both musicians it represents a stage in their investigation of the elements of performance that Brahms and his circle would have expected performers to read between the lines. As Otto Klauwell wrote in On Musical Execution: an Attempt at a Systematic exposition of the same Primarily with reference to Piano-Playing [ (New York: Schirmer, 1890), pp. 1-2]: 

Our present system of notation […] can indicate […] only measurable quantities, multiples and fractions of a fundamental unit; and no more can be expected of any system of notation which may be invented hereafter [....] Now, in my opinion, what is usually termed the Art of Execution consists in apprehending and carrying out these necessary deviations, this rubato of manifold variety, which of course is to be read only between the lines. 

Similar comments were made by many of Brahms's contemporaries. Carl Reinecke The Beethoven Pianoforte Sonatas: Letters to a Lady, (trans. By E. M. Trevenen Dawson (Augener, London: 1897) p. 139 ) observed that there is much to notation ‘no composer can convey by signs, no editor by explanations.’ 

These kinds of statement might, of course,  just as well be made and agreed to by modern performers. But the types of freedom Carl Reinecke, Joseph Joachim and other German musicians of the later 19th century envisaged when they made such comments were undoubtedly very different from those that are currently imagined by performers when they confront a 19th-century score. Even at that time, there were different approaches by performers from different traditions. For instance, Joachim maintained that the Franco-Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps, despite his impressive virtuosity, did not play classical chamber music effectively, because ‘like most violinists of the Franco-Belgian school in recent times – he adhered too strictly to the lifeless printed notes when playing the classics, not understanding how to read between the lines’ [A. Moser, Joseph Joachim. Ein Lebensbild, 2nd edn, 2 vols. (Berlin: Verlag der Deutschen Brahms-Gesellschaft, 1908–10), vol. II, p. 292].

As a basis for the present performance we used primarily the Simrock edition of 1926, edited by Ossip Schnirlin (1874-1939) a pupil first at the Leipzig Conservatorium and then in Berlin under Joachim. The piano part was edited by Robert Kahn (1865-1951), who met Brahms in 1887, dined regularly with him in Vienna for three months, and was present at Clara Schumann’s house, when Brahms played his new chamber works opp. 99-101 with Joachim and Hausmann (Steffen Fahl: Tradition der Natürlichkeit, (Studioverlag Sinzig, 1998), 11-14)

Much of the fingering and bowing in my performance was based on Schnirlin's edition, but editions by Leopold Auer (also a Joachim pupil), and Franz Kneisel (who was frequently in contact with Brahms during the composer's last years) have also been drawn upon. The editions by Carl Flesch and Clemens Schultze-Biezantz reflect more contemporary trends in violin playing.

I played on a violin strung with three pure gut strings and a silver-covered gut G string, using a French bow from about 1860. Miaoyin used a mid 19th-century Erard piano. 

The editions on the CHASE website provide the following metronome marks for the D minor Sonata.



Un poco presto

e con sentimento

Presto agitato


Allegro (moderato)






b. 258 Sostenuto




meno presto 1/4=92

a tempo 1/4=108

tranquillo 1/4=104

1/4.=132-116 [sic]

b. 325 1/4.=116

b.331 1/4.=132
















The performance presented here represents a stage in the exploration of late 19th-century performing style (for further discussion of the scope and aims of our experimental research see the article on Mozart's Violin and Viola Duos. Probably both performers would apply rubato, accentuation dynamics, vibrato, portamento, arpeggiation and dislocation in different ways as a result of ongoing experiment. Listening back now to the recording there are a number of features that seem unsatisfactory to me, especially with regard to tempo fluctuation (perhaps not bold enough) and portamento (sometimes rather crudely executed). Probably a further performance will be posted in due course. 

The Bärenreiter edition of all Brahms's duo sonatas that I am currently editing with Neal Peres Da Costa and Kate Bennett Wadsworth is due for publication in Spring 2015. This edition will be accompanied b dedicated web pages on this website on which we and other associates will demonstrate and illustrate the performing practices that are discussed in the edition and (for the string parts) represented through fingering and bowing.


Click below for audio files of the 2013 performance of the D minor Sonata by Clive Brown and Miaoyin Qu.



Un poco presto e con sentimento 

Presto agitato