Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

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

String Quartet No. 1 in c minor, Op. 51, No. 1

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
10:16 I. Allegro
7:04 II. Romanze. Poco adagio
8:54 III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
6:23 IV. Allegro
Duration: 33 minutes (approximately)
Composed: c. 1865-1873 (age 31-40)
Premiere: December 11, 1873. Musikvereinsall, Vienna. Hellmesberger String Quartet
Published: 1873, November. Berlin: N. Simrock (age 39-40)
Dedication: Theodor Billroth
9 recordings, 24 videos
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10:51
New Orford String Quartet
I. Allegro
7:36
New Orford String Quartet
II. Romanze. Poco adagio
9:30
New Orford String Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
6:17
New Orford String Quartet
IV. Allegro
8:07
Guarneri Quartet
I. Allegro
6:47
Guarneri Quartet
II. Romanze. Poco adagio
8:48
Guarneri Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
5:41
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Allegro
11:31
Borodin Quartet
I. Allegro
6:44
Borodin Quartet
II. Romanze. Poco adagio
8:10
Borodin Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
6:34
Borodin Quartet
IV. Allegro
10:34
Alban Berg Quartet
I. Allegro
6:58
Alban Berg Quartet
II. Romanze. Poco adagio
8:45
Alban Berg Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
6:10
Alban Berg Quartet
IV. Allegro
30:00
Vegh Quartet
35:29
Navarra Quartet
9:16
Jerusalem Quartet
I. Allegro
7:16
Jerusalem Quartet
II. Romanze. Poco adagio
9:22
Jerusalem Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
8:16
Jerusalem Quartet
IV. Allegro
8:20
Emerson String Quartet
III. Allegretto molto moderato e comodo: un poco più animato
30:22
Amadeus Quartet
From Kai Christiansen

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1, 1873

Brahms was 40 years old when he was finally ready to publish a string quartet for the first time even though he had already published many celebrated works. As with the symphony, the string quartet was hallowed ground since before Beethoven and Brahms was particularly careful with his first public works in either genre. Brahms had destroyed something like 20 previous string quartets and labored on this one for many years. He published a set of two quartets as Op. 51, still some years before he would publish his first symphony. Curiously, his first published quartet and symphony share the same dramatic key of C-minor. Both are masterworks recalling the humorous quip that, "an overnight success takes 10 years."

The C minor quartet comprises two outer movements of dramatic verve (possibly angst) with two gentle, more lyrical movements within. The forms are crisply classical and the music is derived from a minimal set of ideas, another hallmark of the great tradition. This quartet might well be called cyclic in that the opening bars supply a primary rhythmic / melodic motive for the first and second movements and it saturates the finale, in each case with recognizable variants. The first movement is a dazzling sonata form bristling with forceful agitation, rhythmic complexity and sharp part writing. The mood softens, even melts into the lyrical second movement Romanze where the cyclic motive brightens into the euphony of horn intervals and the warm key of A-flat. It is a song form with a three-part design, complete with supple embellishments when the main "verse" repeats.

For the third movement, rather than a vivacious scherzo, Brahms writes what some call an intermezzo in a more relaxed pace with a lyrical rather than dance character. Curiously, while the first two movements are both in triple meter rhythms, this is a duple rhythm for a feeling of two counts rather than three. This is the longest movement of the quartet and, beginning with the theme stated by the viola, features some wonderfully fluid ensemble writing with the melody passing from one exposed soloist to another, sometimes in little canons, calls and responses. There is something of the heavy, unsettling character of the outer movements throughout this languid scherzo-intermezzo despite its pliant theme, but a charming trio finally dances to a three-count lilt for some colorful relief. The finale restores the quartet's initial nervous drive, starting with the recurring motto theme with a fresh, strident urgency. A sonata-rondo hybrid alternates the dark surge with more hopeful contrasts, the omnipresent motive woven throughout in several guises. An ultimate coda accelerates the pace into a frantic rush towards a resolutely tragic conclusion.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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