Sarah Beth Briggs to play Variations Plus at Sheffield Crucible’s Playhouse in Music in the Round piano recital on November 4

York pianist Sarah Beth Briggs

YORK classical pianist Sarah Beth Briggs will perform her Variations Plus recital at Sheffield Crucible Theatre’s Playhouse on November 4 at 2.30pm.

Everyone will be able to “see the pianist” in action at this Music In The Round event because the piano will be rotated 180 degrees at the interval in the Crucible’s former Studio theatre.

“I’m delighted to be returning to the Crucible to present my Variations Plus programme,” says Sarah. “This series offers a wonderful opportunity to de-formalise classical music. The idea of having the audience all around me and offering accessible spoken introductions to make everyone feel they can really relate to what they’re listening to is so refreshing.”

In her two-hour Piano Masterpieces recital, Sarah will play works from her 2023 album, Variations, released on AVIE Records this spring.

At the heart of the programme will be Hans Gál’s tightly structured four-movement Sonata from 1927, with a set of variations as its rather haunting third movement. Sarah was invited to perform this work by the Hans Gál Society at a Gál Celebration Concert at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, following plaudits for her recordings of Gal’s Piano Concerto (Gramophone Critic’s Choice) and Piano Trio (Gramophone Editor’s Choice.)

The first half will place Gál between Mozart’s late Duport variations and Mendelssohn’s virtuosic Variations Sérieuses, regarded by many as his most significant piano work, while in the second half Beethoven’s Variations on God Save The King will preface Schubert’s classic theme and five variations that comprise his much-loved B flat impromptu, D935 No. 3.

The poster for Sarah Beth Briggs’s Variations Plus programme in Sheffield

The programme will conclude with two works by Chopin. Firstly, his Berceuse, originally offered to its publishers with the title Variantes, later changed to Berceuse, perhaps to represent the rocking of the cradle depicted by the ostinato bass that runs throughout the piece.

Finally, Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, effectively a set of variations on a rather tragic theme with contrasting interludes building up to a dramatic coda: a work that the late John Ogdon said “contained the experience of a lifetime”.

“Most of my programme will be well known and loved by regular concert goers, but it would be great to think that it might attract less frequent classical music attendees too,” says Sarah.

“Alongside familiar repertoire, I’m excited to present Hans Gál’s 1927 Sonata, with its haunting Variations 3rd movement, as a centrepiece. Having been proud to play a part in a major Gál revival on disc, it’s good to introduce this fascinating composer to live audiences.”

Box office: 0114 249 6000 or For Sarah’s introduction to her Playhouse programme, here is her home video:

SARAHh Beth Briggs will perform Hans Gál’s Piano Concerto in Germany in December with the Hofer Symphoniker, having made the world premiere recording with the Royal Northern Sinfonia in 2016.

Sarah Beth Briggs releases Variations album with Beethoven’s God Save The King times seven ahead of Charles’s coronation

Variations: Sarah Beth Briggs’s 50th birthday year recording

YORK international concert pianist Sarah Beth Briggs releases her new album, Variations, today.

Available worldwide through AVIE, it follows the success of her Austrian Connections disc, which received a five-star review from Musical Opinion.

“Lyricism and dance are the watchwords of Briggs’s beautifully prepared performances…a player at the height of her powers,” the reviewer enthused.

Recorded at the Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, Wales, with support from the Nimbus Foundation, Variations finds Sarah exploring five sets of Variations by great masters of the genre, some of them relatively rarely heard on the concert platform.

Mozart’s exquisite late Duport Variations pave the way for Beethoven, who, after “‘showing the British what a treasure they have in God Save The King”, threw out the rule book of traditional variation form in his beautifully crafted yet still much overlooked Opus 34 set.

Before concluding with Brahms’s deeply poignant tribute to Robert Schumann, Sarah plumbs the depths of Mendelssohn’s much recorded Variations Serieuses, true to the spirit of the title, which indicates the composer’s desire to go far beyond merely demonstrating a pianist’s virtuoso capabilities. 

“For my 50th birthday year recording, I was keen to highlight the progress of Variation form through the classical and romantic eras and wanted to contrast a much performed and recorded set (Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses) with some of the lesser known and performed variations by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms,” says Sarah.

“I first learnt Mozart’s Duport Variations in my teens, and they were a test piece when I played in the first round of the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg. I’ve loved them ever since – there’s so much that’s joyful (and very operatic!) about them!”

Sarah recorded Beethoven’s Seven Variations on God Save The King purely by chance, but now, serendipitously, they could not be better timed for King Charles’s upcoming coronation.

“It’s strange to think I was recording Beethoven’s God Save The King Variations when Queen Elizabeth II was alive, never imagining that the timing of the release would be shortly before King Charles III’s coronation,” she says.

“I’m particularly delighted to have included them in the album programme at what turns out to be such an appropriate moment in history. Beethoven made it clear that he believed the British had a ‘treasure’ in God Save The King and he has a lot of fun embellishing it!”

Sarah continues: “His Opus 34 set is much less frequently performed than the Eroica set that immediately follows it, but my love of these variations goes back to growing up with my own late teacher Denis Matthews’ recording of them. They’re beautifully crafted, yet certainly showing Beethoven the revolutionary – throwing out the rule book of traditional variation form.” 

“The key for me here is to view the variations as truly great music, rather than purely for their virtuoso qualities,” says Sarah Beth Briggs of Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses

Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses need little introduction to classical music lovers, says Sarah. “I’ve had a soft spot for them for as long as I can remember,” she reveals. “I approached them from the early days of studying with Denis with a real wish to understand the importance of Mendelssohn’s title – the word ‘serious’ distinguishing them from the sometimes frivolous variations of the time, which were largely about showing off.

“The key for me here is to view the variations as truly great music, rather than purely for their virtuoso qualities, and much of the excitement of playing them is keeping something in reserve so the whole set can build to a really exciting conclusion.”

Sarah finishes with the Brahms Schumann Variations. “They have almost overwhelming depth and sadness, alongside moments of high drama,” she says. “I see this set as a true masterwork. A wonderful tribute both to Robert Schumann (who had just been admitted to an asylum following his attempted suicide) and to his wife Clara (the dedicatee), who was at the time pregnant with their seventh child.

“It is hard to believe that this is the writing of a 21-year-old man, but certainly indicates Brahms’ great genius. It feels a suitably great work with which to conclude this particular musical journey.”

Discussing her performance plans for Variations, Sarah says: “While I have previously performed the works that feature in my album individually, I’ve chosen to wait to perform a programme built on a larger part of this release until the autumn season.

“I look forward to performing Variations Plus (featuring some of the disc programme alongside other works that take the form of variations but aren’t actually titled as such!) in numerous venues throughout the UK.”

Sarah’s Yorkshire appearance will be in November as part of the Music In The Round series at the Sheffield Crucible. Watch this space for more details.

“Part of my programme planning has centred around linking my great interest in Hans Gál (whose music I have made several recordings of) with my latest Variations project, so at the heart of my Variations Plus programme is Hans Gál’s Piano Sonata from 1927, which includes a set of variations as its rather haunting third movement,” she says.

“That ties up nicely with my first live performance of the Gál Piano Concerto (which I made the world premiere recording of) later this year in Germany with the Hofer Symphoniker.”

See Sarah Beth Briggs’s album preview below:

Sarah Beth Briggs: Variations

Mozart: Variations on a Minuet by Duport, K573

Beethoven: Seven Variations on God Save The King, WoO78

Beethoven: Six Variations on an Original Theme in F major, Op 34

Mendelssohn: Variations Sérieuses, Op 54

Brahms: Variations on a theme by Robert Schumann, Op 9

Pianist Sarah Beth Briggs responds to lockdown with home videos and new album

Doubling up: Sarah Beth Briggs has made five videos of music for two pianos, taking on the role of both pianists

YORK pianist Sarah Beth Briggs has released her tenth album, The Austrian Connection, bringing back memories of her earliest days of making her mark in the classical music world.

“2020 got off to a good start when I spent three days recording the album in early January at Leeds University’s Clothworkers Hall,” she says.

This summer’s new disc on the AVIE Records label features music associated most closely with Briggs during a career that stretches back to teenage days. At 15, she was the joint winner of Salzburg’s International Mozart Competition and Mozart has since been prominent on several of her recordings.

She has established herself too as a performer at home in the Viennese tradition and works by Haydn, Schubert and Brahms form an important part of her discography.

“In a market where one-composer discs have become the norm, I’ve come up with a different line of thought,” says Sarah. “My CDs feel more like my recitals in the concert hall, with both linked threads and the kind of stylistic contrasts that I choose to offer my live audiences.”

The idea for The Austrian Connection began with Sarah’s commitment to the music of Austrian-British composer Hans Gál. “I see Gál as the last great composer to uphold the tonal Austro German tradition,” she says.

“I’ve already made award-winning recordings of his Piano Concerto – a world premiere recording – and chamber music and now, on my latest album, I trace the connection between Gál’s writing and that of his great Austrian forebears, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert.”

The artwork for Sarah Beth Briggs’s latest album, The Austrian Connection

Sarah would welcome Gál’s music being featured much more regularly in the concert hall. “I was particularly happy when my recording of the slow movement of the Piano Concerto made it on to Classic FM’s Smooth Classics, as I see it as being just as accessible as the great romantic piano concerto slow movements,” she says.

“Gál has the wit of Haydn, the precision of Mozart and the song-like qualities of Schubert and whenever I present this great music in the concert hall, audiences delight in it.”

Sarah is thrilled by the early responses to The Austrian Connection. “The disc has already been popular with BBC Radio 3 and Scala Radio, as well as featuring in a dedicated programme on Austrian Radio – and it’s also been warmly received both here and abroad,” she says.

As with artists the world over, the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown brought an abrupt halt to Sarah’s performing career. “As the spread of Covid-19 accelerated, watching my concerts being erased from the diary one by one was like seeing a pack of dominoes falling,” she recalls. “Solo recitals, chamber music concerts and my Spanish concerto debut all went, and the future looked bleak.

“Zoom teaching over the internet soon followed, but something else was very necessary as an artistic outlet.”

As with many other international musicians, the only possibility was to record music at home to share with those that love it over the internet. “In dark times, the arts are needed more than ever,” asserts Sarah, who set about making “unedited, basically recorded home videos”.

“It was time to rid myself of my concerns about poor sound and amateurish video production and get on with sharing music. It proved a very cathartic process for me – at last I could share something again.”

“A world without live arts is very monochrome,” says Sarah Beth Briggs. “We, as musicians, need our audiences and hope that they need us very soon!”

Unsurprisingly, Sarah began with a beautiful Hans Gál movement, since when her musical journeys have taken in an eclectic mix of everything from Bach to Albeniz, complemented by a new Prelude and Fugue by her great friend, the composer Christopher Brown, thrown in for good measure.

“It felt a strange process,” says Sarah. “Having had all ten of my commercial CDs produced by Simon Fox-Gál, one of the world’s great producers – and, as it happens, Hans Gál’s grandson! – I was suddenly recording myself on a mini Zoom recorder.

“I synched that sound with visuals made on an iPhone, at first poised on a well-used music stand which had belonged to my mother when she played the violin in schooldays. I really hit the big time when I moved on and purchased a ‘selfie stick’ to secure the iPhone!”

In addition to her solo videos, Sarah has recorded remotely with her violinist duo partner, David Juritz. “Playing Mozart with David in Chiswick and me in York certainly was a novel experience,” she says. “Chamber music is such a huge part of what music is about to me and I’m greatly missing working with others.”

More unusually still, Sarah has made five videos of music for two pianos, taking on the role of both pianists. For a taster, seek out her particularly dramatic offering of the first movement of Brahms’ Sonata for Two Pianos, better known to many as the Piano Quintet, at:

After 20 videos in total, the end of August heralds Sarah’s decision to close the regular series, but they can all be found at:

She remains “cautiously optimistic” about the gradual reopening of the arts, not least being delighted that Yorkshire has hosted two of the first classical music events with an audience present: Jamie Walton’s vibrant North York Moors Chamber Music Festival in a marquee at Welburn Abbey, Ryedale, from August 9 to 22, and a pilot concert with the Orchestra of Opera North at Leeds Town Hall on August 28.

‘It has been a very rough time for so many people and those of us in the arts world are certainly among the worst hit, but there is a thirst for live music and theatre out there and we will win the battle and get things back on track,” she says. “A world without live arts is very monochrome – we, as musicians, need our audiences and hope that they need us very soon!’