Thursday, September 26, 2013

Brahms: Haydn Variations (Bartlett and Robertson)

Rae Robertson and Ethel Bartlett
I've featured several recordings in the past by the British duo-piano team of Ethel Bartlett (1896-1978) and Rae Robertson (1893-1956), and here's another: the original piano duo version of Brahms' wonderful Variations on the St. Anthony Chorale, previously attributed to Haydn but more likely, according to the latest scholarship, to be by Haydn's pupil Ignaz Pleyel.  Of course, several recordings of the orchestral version had achieved wide currency when this recording was issued late in 1940, including ones by Toscanini and Weingartner, but this appears to be the first-issued recording of the piano duo.  (A year after this recording appeared, a version by Pierre Luboshutz and Genia Nemenoff was issued by Victor, but since I don't have access to Victor's recording dates, I have no way of knowing which was actually recorded first.)

Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56b
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, duo-pianists
Recorded January 4 and April 3, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set X-181, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 41.29 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 25.26 MB)

Sadly, Bartlett and Robertson's recording career was not as extensive as artists of their caliber would warrant.  It began with several NGS recordings of works by Arnold Bax in the late 1920s, continued in the 30s with a dozen or so sides for HMV, and when they moved to the USA in the late 30s they signed with Columbia, where they recorded 32 issued sides before Vronsky and Babin, who had been at Victor, displaced them as the reigning piano duo.  In the early 50s, they made several LPs for MGM, which are so obscure that I knew nothing of them until researching for this post!  They included a second recording of the Brahms Haydn Variations and their only recordings of works by Stravinsky.


  1. Alternate links:

  2. Yes, many thanks! If I may add just a bit more info: the Robertsons first recorded this work for the NGS, in November 1927, but The Gramophone Co. put pressure on the Society not to issue it, because the orchestral version had been done for H.M.V.! A revealing episode, on two levels: the power of the commercial company, and the perceived equivalence of the two scorings in commercial terms. I don't know if any test pressings survive but they may. The duo went on to record for British Homochord before being taken up by H.M.V. and then, in the US, by Columbia and MGM. Best wishes and thanks again, Nick

    1. Nick, that's very interesting - Did they do anything of importance for Homochord, or anything else for the NGS?

    2. I know of 3 Homochord discs, of music by Arensky, Brahms (5 Waltzes) and Infante - nothing of great importance - but I must do more research. For the NGS, apart from 4 discs of Bax, they recorded 2 of Debussy's Epigraphes antiques, on 1 side. All the best, Nick