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8.572798 - BRAHMS, J.: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 and 3 (Barakhovsky, Zemtsov, W.E. Schmidt, Nebolsin)

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 • Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60


Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833, the son of a double-bass player. His childhood was spent in relative poverty, but his early studies in music developed his talent to such an extent that there was talk of touring as a prodigy at the age of eleven. It was in 1851 that he met the emigre Hungarian violinist Remenyi, with whom, two years later, he set out on his first concert tour, their journey taking them, on the recommendation of the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, to Weimar, where Franz Liszt held court and Brahms made a poor impression. Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns, through Joachim’s agency. The meeting was a fruitful one. In 1850 Schumann had been appointed director of music in Dusseldorf. Now, in 1853, he welcomed Brahms, publicly declaring him the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. The happy relationship with Schumann was soon disrupted by the latter’s break-down and final illness. Brahms rallied to the support of Clara Schumann and her young family, remaining a firm friend until her death in 1896. He had always hoped that sooner or later he would be able to return in triumph to a position of distinction in the musical life of Hamburg. This ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled in Vienna, intermittently from 1863 and definitively in 1869, establishing himself there and seeming to many to fulfil Schumann’s early prophecy. He remained there until his death in 1897.

Brahms completed three Piano Quartets. The first, a work in C sharp minor, was written in 1855–56 but revised in 1875 as the Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60. The Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25, was seemingly written between 1859 and 1861 and submitted to Clara Schumann and Joachim for their comments. He played the work with friends during his first visit to Vienna in 1862, leading to a public performance. It was published by Simrock in 1863, with a dedication to the statesman Baron Reinhard von Dalwigk. The first movement, broadly in sonata form, starts with a motif that has continued importance, forming the substance of the first subject. Other thematic material is introduced, in D minor and D major, before the exposition ends with a ten-bar return to the opening of the movement, discontinued as the development begins. The recapitulation emerges with a G major subsidiary theme, before the return of the first subject and the introduction of new material. The second movement, originally described as a Scherzo is better fitted to its later title of Intermezzo. In C minor, it is introduced by muted violin and viola over a repeated cello note, continuing in textures that find a place for Brahms’s favourite cross-rhythms. The Trio, marked Animato, is in A flat major and provides a lively contrast. The movement ends with a graceful C major coda. The Andante con moto, in E flat major, presents a deeply felt melody, the texture significantly filled out by the double stopping of the viola. The introduction of a dotted rhythm prepares the way for the C major Animato with its marked rhythms, the original key and mood returning as the movement draws to a close. The work ends with a Gypsy Rondo, Rondo alla zingarese, a reminder of Brahms’s early experiences in concerts with the Hungarian violinist Remenyi, its principal theme providing a framework for contrasting episodes.

Brahms’s earlier Piano Quartet in C sharp minor dates from the difficult period of Schumann’s final months in the asylum at Endenich, where he died in July 1856. It was not until 1874 that Brahms recreated the work, retaining revised versions of the first movement and the Scherzo, the latter, it has been suggested, perhaps originally intended as the finale. In jocular remarks to his publisher, concealing possibly deeper significance, he compared himself to Werther, the romantic hero created by Goethe, whose unrequitable love in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) ended in his suicide, thus setting a romantic fashion, reflected also in Werther’s characteristc dress including blue coat, yellow breeches and top-boots. The quartet was published by Simrock in 1875. The first movement opens with a piano octave C, followed by a melancholy descending motif from the three string instruments, a version of the theme that was associated with Clara Schumann. A similar procedure is followed after a piano octave B flat, plucked notes from the viola and then the violin, a descending harmonic minor scale for the piano and a bold statement of the first subject. The E flat major second subject provides a contrast in an exposition that is not repeated, this second theme developed by four succeeding variations. Further variations of this theme form part of the central development.The Scherzo is also in C minor, propelled forward by its resolute principal theme, to which a second theme provides a contrast, followed by a third that moves towards the tonic major key, soon to be displaced, but returning in the final chords. The Andante is in E major, a key dictated, perhaps, by the requirements of the original work in C sharp minor. This starts with a moving cello melody, accompanied only by the piano, but eventually joined by the violin, proceeding in broadly sonata form. This movement of striking beauty leads to the final Allegro comodo, with its opening violin solo, leading some to suggest that this and the preceding movement may have had their origin in solo sonatas for cello and for violin respectively. In this final sonata-form movement, with its repeated exposition, the strings introduce a chorale-like passage, a contrast to the preceding onward motion of the piano. The development is initially marked Tranquillo e sempre pianissimo, with chains of descending thirds, derived from the opening theme, accompanied by the piano with figuration from the same source. The original impetus returns and the work ends with final major chords, after the previous re-establishment of the minor key.

Keith Anderson

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