One of pianist Johannes Brahms’s characteristics was his extraordinary musical memory, which allowed him to memorise the works of Bach, Beethoven or Chopin in an incredibly short time. In order to enable his fingers to keep up with his remarkable feats of memory, he placed great value on the development of a ‘smooth’ playing technique, and also required this from his pupils.
With the 51 Exercises for the Pianoforte, which were published in 1893, Brahms presented a compendium of his pedagogic work: from the mastery of difficult fingerings and time proportions via the perfection of the keystroke to the grasp of musical structures. Here he placed additional value on the creation of variations, on departure from the written notes and on training the musical memory. However, mere technical training was for Brahms not an end in itself, but a means to the acquisition of differentiated forms of musical playing.§
Brahms’s 51 Exercises are therefore pedagogic masterpieces which are still valid today, especially for advanced students; however, some of the 30 further Exercises – first published by Wiener Urtext Edition – can be tackled at an earlier stage.
Nos. 18a–21 were printed and commented in detail within Eugenie Schumann’s memoirs of her piano lessons with Brahms.