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Name of Work

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (2008)

Intermezzo: Allegro, ma non troppo — Trio: Animato — Tempo del Intermezzo
Andante con moto
Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto


Sep 14, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Meng-Chieh Liu, Piano

Sep 15, 2008

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Meng-Chieh Liu, Piano

BRAHMS-Quartet No. 1 for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello in G minor, Op. 25

Composed in 1857-61
Premiered on November 16, 1862 in Vienna by the composer as pianist and members of the Hellmesberger Quartet.

The high-minded direction of Johannes Brahms’ musical career was evident from his teenage years—as a lad, he studied the masterpieces of the Austro-German tradition with Eduard Marxsen, the most illustrious piano teacher in his native Hamburg, and played Bach and Beethoven on his earliest recitals; his first published compositions were not showy virtuoso trifles but three ambitious piano sonatas inspired by Classical models; he was irresistibly drawn to Joseph Joachim and the Schumanns and other of the most exalted musicians of his day. When Schumann hailed him as the savior of German music, the rightful heir to the mantle of Beethoven, in a wide-circulated article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1853, Brahms was only too eager to accept both the renown and the responsibility inherent in such a lofty appraisal. He tried sketching a symphony as early as 1855 (not completing it, however, until two decades later), but his principal means of fulfilling Schumann’s prophecy during the early phase of his creative life were focused first on the genres of piano works and songs, and then on chamber music.

Finished compositions did not come easily for Brahms, however, and he made numerous attempts to satisfy himself with a chamber piece before he allowed the publication of his Piano Trio, Op. 8 in 1854. (He destroyed at least three earlier efforts in that form.) The following year, he turned to writing quartets for piano, violin, viola and cello, a genre whose only precedents were the two by Mozart and a single specimen by Schumann. Work on the quartets did not go smoothly, however, and he laid one (in C minor, eventually Op. 60) aside for almost two decades, and tinkered with the other two for the next half-dozen years in Hamburg and at his part-time post as music director for the court Lippe-Detmold, midway between Frankfurt and Hamburg.

Brahms was principally based in Hamburg during those years, usually staying with his parents, but in 1860, when he was 27 years old and eager to find the quiet and privacy to work on his compositions, he rented spacious rooms (“a quite charming flat with a garden,” he said) in the suburb of Hamm from one Frau Dr. Elisabeth Rössing, a neighbor of two members of the local women’s choir he was then directing. Hamm was to be his home for the next two years, and there he worked on the Variations on a Theme of Schumann for Piano Duet (Op. 23), the Handel Variations (Op. 24) and the Piano Quartets in G minor (Op. 25) and A major (Op. 26). Brahms dedicated the A major Quartet to his hospitable landlady. The two Piano Quartets were finally finished by early autumn 1861, and given a private reading by some unknown local musicians and Clara Schumann during her visit to Hamm shortly thereafter. Brahms basked in the glow of Clara’s approval of both his new pieces and the direction of his career.

In September 1862, Brahms succumbed to a long-held desire and visited Vienna. He had already made several professional contacts in the city, perhaps most notably with Joseph Hellmesberger, Director of the Vienna Conservatory and leader of a highly regarded string quartet. Hellmesberger introduced his German visitor to Julius Epstein, professor of piano at the school, and an evening of Brahms’ music was planned for Epstein’s apartment, located, fortuitously, at Schulerstrasse 8, the very building in which Mozart had composed The Marriage of Figaro. Hellmesberger and his colleagues eagerly joined Brahms in reading the two new Piano Quartets, and the violinist echoed Schumann’s pronouncement when it was over: “This is indeed Beethoven’s heir.”

Hellmesberger insisted that they mark Brahms’ arrival in Vienna by presenting the G minor Quartet at his recital on November 16th in the hall of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde; the program garnered sufficient success to warrant scheduling another concert two weeks later to introduce the A major Quartet. Those events solidified Brahms’ reputation in Vienna, and were instrumental in helping him decide to settle in the city for good in August 1863, the same month that Fritz Simrock published the G minor Piano Quartet.

The first movement of the G minor Piano Quartet contains an abundance of thematic material woven into a seamless continuum through Brahms’ consummate contrapuntal skill. Balanced within its closely reasoned sonata form are pathos and vigor, introspection and jubilance, storm and tranquility. The second movement (Intermezzo), cast in the traditional form of scherzo and trio, is formed from long-spun melodies in gentle, rocking rhythms. The Andante is in a broad three-part structure, with the middle section taking on a snappy martial air. The Gypsy Rondo finale is a spirited essay much in the style of Brahms’ invigorating Hungarian Dances.

Program notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance dates: September 14 & 15, 2008

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