Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Nationality: German
Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna (age 63)

Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34

(for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano)
14:30 I. Allegro non troppo - Poco sostenuto - Tempo 1
8:49 II. Andante, un poco adagio
7:41 III. Scherzo. Allegro
10:35 IV. Finale. Poco sostenuto - Allegro non troppo - Tempo 1 - Presto, non troppo
Duration: 43 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1864 (age 30-31)
Premiere: June 22, 1866. Leipzig
Published: 1865, Winterthur & Leipzig: J. Rieter-Biedermann (age 31-32)
Dedication: Princess Anna of Hesse
8 recordings, 17 videos
autoopen autoplay
16:24
Pacifica Quartet, Menahem Pressler
I. Allegro non troppo - Poco sostenuto - Tempo 1
9:01
Pacifica Quartet, Menahem Pressler
II. Andante, un poco adagio
8:17
Pacifica Quartet, Menahem Pressler
III. Scherzo. Allegro
11:29
Pacifica Quartet, Menahem Pressler
IV. Finale. Poco sostenuto - Allegro non troppo - Tempo 1 - Presto, non troppo
43:51
Quartetto Italiano, Pollini
11:59
Pražák Quartet, Caramella
I. Allegro non troppo - Poco sostenuto - Tempo 1
8:33
Pražák Quartet, Caramella
II. Andante, un poco adagio
7:38
Pražák Quartet, Caramella
III. Scherzo. Allegro
10:34
Pražák Quartet, Caramella
IV. Finale. Poco sostenuto - Allegro non troppo - Tempo 1 - Presto, non troppo
45:26
Ebène Quartet, Mndoyants
43:13
Budapest String Quartet, Serkin
43:28
ATOS Trio +
42:34
Amadeus, Curzon (complete)
15:19
Amadeus, Curzon
I. Allegro non troppo - Poco sostenuto - Tempo 1
9:04
Amadeus, Curzon
II. Andante, un poco adagio
7:22
Amadeus, Curzon
III. Scherzo. Allegro
10:57
Amadeus, Curzon
IV. Finale. Poco sostenuto - Allegro non troppo - Tempo 1 - Presto, non troppo
From Kai Christiansen

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1896

Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34, 1865

Johannes BrahmsThe combination of string quartet and piano makes the piano quintet a singularly powerful ensemble as it joins two self-sufficient forces in a grand partnership. Occurring far less frequently in the repertoire than string or piano quartets, the great works for this medium are equally singular and powerful coming from the likes of Schumann, Franck, Brahms, Dvořák, Fauré and Shostakovich as the most noteworthy examples. While Brahms's lone Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34 is on the short list of masterworks, it assumed its final form only after a great deal of tinkering. It began life in 1861 as a string quintet with two cellos. Brahms eventually destroyed this version and rescored it as a sonata for two pianos. With the feedback from several performances and the advice of his friends Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim, Brahms finally settled on the present version for piano quintet that he published in 1865. Joachim would declare that it was the finest new chamber music work published since Schubert. A dark, mighty work of tremendous scope, it is generally considered to be Brahms's great chamber music epic completed when he was only thirty-one.

The first movement Allegro is an epic all on its own. Brahms appears to provide a wealth of thematic ideas in its sprawling exposition, but a marvelous analysis by Ivor Keys reveals that just about everything is laid out in the first eight measures and spun into a compelling narrative by Brahms's gift for thematic variation. Essential to the adventure is Brahms's skill with rhythmic complexity, particularly his nearly omnipresent use of two beats against three for a driving pulse with a myriad of cross-rhythms. Brahms exploits a rich variety of piano technique as well as the full contrapuntal resources of the string quartet for a composite texture true to chamber music and never static. Musical lines pass from instrument to instrument and hand to hand with an almost delicate fluidity at times interweaving multiple themes in parallel for a subtle series of echoes and premonitions. Unlike many sonatas in a minor key, it just barely makes it to a major key despite its rapid and adventurous harmonic motion. It remains predominantly dark throughout.

The Andante couldn't be more different. Gentle, swaying, simple and bright, it is a quiet intermezzo of the most romantic character. Absent are the rhythmic tumult and the contrapuntal imbroglio of the opening movement. Instead, there is the limpid grace of the piano with the restrained accompaniment of the strings. The central section floods the music with a kind of euphoric light that seems to fall from the sky all the way down into the earth, grounded into the rich dark soil by the deep baseline of the cello that draws all sound into a primordial hush until the gentle swaying rises again. A simple three-part song form ennobles a quiet dance though an inner revelation. Throughout, a tendency for the major third to slip momentarily into its flattened, minor form colors the music with a very soft and subtle sorrow.

The Scherzo changes everything again. Brooding, suspenseful, even sinister, it rumbles until it pounces into sinewy, forceful march with a syncopated undercurrent that wells up into a probing fugato. A lyrical trio only serves to emphasize the dominant muscular majesty that recalls Schumann but with a gigantic power that Brahms alone seemed to perfect. The nearly maniacal fugato recurs multiplying like a force unleashed by the sorcerer's apprentice, twos and threes in a Brahmsian welter of unstoppable cross-rhythms.

Brahms begins the Finale with a formless shadow in a manner that recalls Mozart's "Dissonance" quartet or the finale to Beethoven's third Razumovsky quartet. It is an incredible dramatic device particularly as a foreboding that follows on the heels of the devastating Scherzo. The cello introduces a simple, animated theme based on a sequence of repeated three-note cells. The sectional rondo form brutally juxtaposes a series of episodes that alternate between the main theme, a tender plea recalling the opening shadow and occasional moments of genuine repose that swiftly pass into smoldering tension. How does Brahms resolve these contradictory forces? In a final rushing coda, he combines his materials using ingenious transformations to fuse a fresh amalgam that channels the force of the entire movement into a breathtaking, definitive conclusion.

© Kai Christiansen and Music at Kohl Mansion. All rights reserved.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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