Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

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

String Quartet No. 2 in a minor, Op. 51, No. 2

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
11:07 I. Allegro non troppo
9:28 II. Andante moderato
5:09 III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
6:56 IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
Duration: 34 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1866-1873 (age 32-40)
Premiere: October 18, 1873. Berlin Singakademie, Joachim String Quartet
Published: 1873, November. Berlin: N. Simrock (age 39-40)
11 recordings, 32 videos
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13:57
New Orford String Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:35
New Orford String Quartet
II. Andante moderato
5:27
New Orford String Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
6:17
New Orford String Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
30:33
Cleveland Quartet
12:19
Emerson String Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
8:55
Emerson String Quartet
II. Andante moderato
4:48
Emerson String Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
6:39
Emerson String Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
8:51
Amadeus Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:08
Amadeus Quartet
II. Andante moderato
5:09
Amadeus Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
6:32
Amadeus Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
9:39
Guarneri Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:31
Guarneri Quartet
II. Andante moderato
5:34
Guarneri Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
7:20
Guarneri Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
13:31
Borodin Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:34
Borodin Quartet
II. Andante moderato
4:56
Borodin Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
7:06
Borodin Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
12:50
Alban Berg Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:37
Alban Berg Quartet
II. Andante moderato
4:58
Alban Berg Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
7:19
Alban Berg Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
39:02
Quatuor Ebène
34:07
Lindsay Quartet
35:33
Jerusalem Quartet (complete)
9:28
Jerusalem Quartet
I. Allegro non troppo
9:23
Jerusalem Quartet
II. Andante moderato
5:02
Jerusalem Quartet
III. Quasi minuetto, moderato - Allegretto vivace
7:05
Jerusalem Quartet
IV. Finale. Allegro non assai
From Kai Christiansen

Johannes Brahms, 1833-1897

String Quartet No. 2 in a minor, Op. 51, No. 2, 1873

Johannes BrahmsLike Schubert, Brahms apparently had many string quartets under his belt before making a published debut. Unlike Schubert, Brahms left no traces by mercilessly destroying what he deemed unworthy. Despite being "firsts", the two quartets published as Op. 51 in 1873 when Brahms was forty must be considered mature works. And evidence suggests he worked on these quartets over an extended period of time. Brahms would write only one more string quartet a few years later. Unlike this final quartet exuberantly in B-flat major, both of the Op. 51 quartets are in a minor key, largely ponderous and dramatic, rich, thick and profound. But as always there is great variety within especially with Brahms's signature gift for thematic variation that can completely transform the character of a theme even within the same movement.

The opening movement features a masterful sonata form with an expansive exposition that begins sounding like Schubert but pursues a vast architectural plan that is distinctly Brahms. From the beginning and throughout the quartet, one also hears a new rhythmic complexity arising from Brahms's constant tendency to pose two counts against three at the same time. Despite passages of gorgeous and even delicate lyricism, a masterful coda reinforces the prevailing severity of this rather turbulent music.

Like some warm, familiar song, the slow movement soothes and even swoons with a kind of gemütlichkeit that only Brahms can conjure. But the greatest beauty is always enhanced by conflict, here, a nervous and very Schubertian interruption that lends a deeper poignancy to the main material that ultimately subdues it. The scherzo that Brahms marks "Quasi Minuetto" remarkably points to Schubert again. Tentative and quiet, it is almost more mood than movement, song more than dance. This becomes an effective foil for a trio that comparatively rocks with a Mendelssohnian lilt, a major tonality and a pert duple meter.

What might be described as the "missing" triple meter scherzo feel from the minuet arrives with a vengeance in the finale establishing a recurring refrain of great muscularity and drive. As with the great rondos of Haydn and Beethoven, this one develops as each recurrence elaborates its dramatic character. Between are contrasting episodes of great and even tender sweetness that develop their own extended lyricism before an ingenious final transformation of the recurring theme hurls the music towards its devastating conclusion.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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