ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Johannes Brahms was just 4 years old, his father taught him to play the violin, cello and the valveless “natural” horn.
By 1865, the great Romantic composer had written his Horn Trio in E-flat Major to commemorate the death of his mother.
New Mexico Philharmonic principal horn player Peter Erb will perform that masterpiece for the Placitas Artist Series at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19. The London-based violinist Jenna Sherry and pianist Luke Gullickson will join him on the program.
“Many people writing for this combination (horn, piano and violin) have referenced this piece,” Erb said. “You have three equal voices; it’s a monumental piano piece. And the violin and the horn have equal roles. It’s really at the length of a symphony. There’s an amazing slow movement that is achingly beautiful and there’s these galloping scherzos.”
Erb is pairing the work with Adagio and Allegro by Robert Schumann, as well as Romances for violin and piano by Clara Schumann.
“You can’t really call it a triangle, but Brahms certainly was in love with Clara,” Erb said. “He had stayed at their house. In their works you find quotes from each other.”
Robert wrote his Adagio for horn in 1849.
“That’s the advent of the development of the technology of the horn,” Erb said.
Valves were not added to the instrument until 1810. They allowed musicians to change pitches without using their hand or a bell.
“It’s a very exciting piece,” Erb said. “The writing for the horn is acrobatic and it’s an intense piece to listen to.”
Clara’s Romance quotes from her husband’s Violin Sonata.
“It’s a beautiful, lyrical piece,” Erb said. “These are right dead smack in the heart of the Romantic period.”
The musicians also will perform a horn trio by the French composer and horn virtuoso Frédéric Nicholas Duvernoy and six short pieces for horn, violin and piano by contemporary Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen.
Erb grew up in New Orleans, where his parents both worked as orchestral musicians. His mother played the oboe; his father the bass trombone.
“I picked something right in the middle,” Erb said. “It had a particular sound; (it was) just the depth of the sound and its complexity.”
He also plays in the Santa Fe Symphony.