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8.553635 - BRAHMS: String Quintets Nos. 1 and 2
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gängeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, a double-bass player, and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years his senior. As was natural, he was at first taught music by his father, the violin and cello, with the intention that the boy should follow his father's trade, but his obvious interest in the piano led to lessons on the instrument from an inspiring teacher and his first modest appearance on the concert platform at the age of ten. From this time onwards he became a pupil of Eduard Marxsen, who gave him a firm grounding in classical technique, while he earned money for his family by playing the piano in establishments of doubtful reputation in the St Pauli district of the port, frequented largely by sailors and others in search of amusement. By the age of fifteen he had given his first solo concert as a pianist.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, then established in Düsseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to Düsseldorl to help Schumann's wife Clara and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
Further concert activity and his association with Joachim and Clara Schumann allowed Brahms to meet many of the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 he took a temporary position at the court of Oetmold as a conductor and piano teacher, duties that he briefly resumed again in the following two years, continuing all the time his activity as a composer and spending much of his time in Hamburg, where his ambitions were always to centre.
Brahms first visited Vienna in 1862, giving concerts there and meeting during the course of the winter the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion. The following year brought appointment as conductor of the Vienna Singakademie for the season and in 1864 he again spent the winter in the city, a pattern repeated in the following years until he finally took up permanent residence there in 1869. For the rest of his life he remained a citizen of Vienna, travelling often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, and generally spending the summer months in the country, where he might concentrate on composition without undue disturbance. He came in some ways to occupy a position similar to Beethoven in the musical life of the city, his notorious rudeness generally tolerated and his bachelor habits indulged by an admiring circle of friends. He died in Vienna in 1897.
In the music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came to occupy a position in direct antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen in Beethoven's great Choral Symphony the last word in symphonic music. The music of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form of music-drama of which he was the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forward in the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra- musical. Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion of pure or abstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. The distinction was in some ways an artificial one.
Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, like Beethoven's, was less literary than that of Wagner or of Liszt, did significantly extend the range of the symphony and was hailed by many contemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, a future Schumann had prophesied for him twenty-three years before the first symphony was written. Brahms made important additions to the repertoire of German song and to chamber music, in both respects continuing a tradition to which Schumann had notably contributed. In all his music there is a remarkable combination of traditional form and a new originality of musical language that enabled Schoenberg to sense in him a very different kind of music of the future.
The two string quintets of Brahms, Quintet No.1 in F major, Op. 88 and Quintet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, are both scored, like the string quintets of Mozart, for two violins, two violas and cello. The choice of two violas is characteristic. The register of the instrument and the richness of texture that it can impart, whether in chamber music or in orchestral writing, was something very typical of Brahms. His first attempt at the form in 1862, using two cellos, he had destroyed, substituting an arrangement for two pianos and later a final version, the Piano Quintet in F minor. The F major String Quintet was written in the spring of 1882 at the fashionable resort of Bad Ischl, where, with many others from Vienna, he chose to spend the summer, and given its first performance on 28th December of the same year at Frankfurt am Main. The first movement opens with a pleasing first subject, in which the second violin soon joins, an octave higher. The second subject, in spite of its typical cross- rhythms, is at heart a Viennese waltz. The development of this classical movement includes considerable use of pedal-point, changing harmonies and textures over sustained bass notes, the whole section reaching a dynamic climax before the re-appearance of the first subject in varied recapitulation. The slow movement contains its own scherzo. The key of A major had been used for the second subject of the first movement. Now a sharper key, C sharp minor, with opening suggestions of the major, is used for the first section, in which the first violin melody is shared with the cello, before the violas continue it. The thematic material was taken from a Sarabande for piano, written in 1855. A cheerful A major Allegretto vivace appears in contrast, the violins accompanied by the plucked notes of second viola and cello. The opening Grave returns, marked molto dolce, to be followed by a Presto variation of the Allegretto vivace. The slow music resumes, now transformed into something more positive and in accord with the general mood of the quintet. Two chords introduce the final Allegro energico, followed by the statement of a fugal subject by the first viola, answered by the second violin, then the first violin, followed finally by second viola and cello together. The long subject, suggested, perhaps, by Beethoven's third Razumovsky Quartet, with its fugal finale, forms the basis of what follows, providing unity in music of great variety. The quintet ends with a final Presto.
It had been Brahms's intention to make the String Quintet in G major, Op.III, his last chamber music composition. He wrote the work in the summer of 1890 at Bad Ischl and it was, in fact, followed by three more, the Clarinet Trio, Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Sonatas, all of which have alternative scoring for viola instead of clarinet, although both instruments can share an autumnal feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. The G major Quintet, which was first performed in Vienna on 11th November in the year of its composition, starts with a movement derived from the composer's sketches for a fifth symphony. Here he allows the cello an orchestrally conceived first subject, competing with a challenging accompaniment from the other instruments, and again turns to Vienna for the inspiration of the second subject. There is a shift of key to B flat major in the central development, further modulation leading to the return of the original key and thematic material in recapitulation. The D minor slow movement allows free variations of the opening material, until the first viola leads to the return of the theme in simpler form. The third movement opens in a melancholy G minor, the feeling dispelled by a G major trio section, which has the brief final word, after the re-appearance of the G minor material. The quintet ends with a Vivace ma non troppo presto, a rondo that finds a place for much else that is thoroughly Austrian or Austro-Hungarian in mood, ending in an energetic Hungarian cz1ird1is.
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