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Name of Work

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1992)

Allegro non troppo
Andante un poco adagiio
Scherzo - Allegro
Finale: poco susenuto, Allegro non troppo


Oct 25, 1992

Marc Johnson, Cello
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Susan Synnestvedt, Violin
Lawrence Neuman, Viola

Oct 26, 1992

Marc Johnson, Cello
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Susan Synnestvedt, Violin
Lawrence Neuman, Viola

BRAHMS - Piano Quintet, Op. 34

Composed in 1862

When Brahms embarked on his first extended visit to Vienna, in September 1862, he was 29 years old, an internationally noted pianist, an experienced conductor, and a composer of ever-growing fame. He had already written numerous songs and piano works, two orchestral Serenades, a String Sextet, the monumental Piano Concerto in D Minor, and some parts of the "German Requiem," to say nothing of an unknown quantity of other works that did not satisfy him, and were summarily destroyed. Not long after arriving in Vienna, he learned that he had lost the Hamburg conducting job he'd hoped for, but he was almost immediately invited to assume the directorship of the Vienna Singakademie choir.

Self-critical and painstaking, a real artistic perfectionist, Brahms put his Op. 34 Quintet through two other versions before he was finally satisfied with the shape, and the instrumentation, of his thematic ideas. The first incarnation was as a string quintet: two violins, viola, and two cellos. His closest friends and musical advisers, the violinist Joseph Joachim and the pianist Clara Schumann, had differing opinions when they first encountered this work in 1862: Joachim felt that the overall effect was unclear and generally unsatisfactory, while Mme. Schumann was enthusiastic. She did not, however, like the two-piano sonata into which Brahms converted the work in 1864, and which he played — in partnership with another friend and valued colleague, Carl Tausig — in April of that year as an extra feature of his first public concert as conductor of the Singakademie. No one, as a matter of fact, had special enthusiasm for this version, although Brahms did not destroy it, as he did the string-quintet setting; he published it some years later as Op. 34b, and it is still sometimes performed. Mme. Schumann expressed the general reaction when she wrote: "It is not a sonata, but a work whose ideas you might, and must, scatter, as from a horn of plenty... Please, dear Johannes... take my advice and recast it." Brahms did, this time combining a standard string-quartet grouping with his own instrument, the piano, which seemed to give the piece the weight, definition, and sense of sonic contrast that had been lacking. In this final form, the Quintet has become one of Brahms's most admired pieces of chamber music.

The "Allegro non troppo" first movement gives a principal theme to the violin, the cello, and the piano; variants on this opening, and fragments from it, are then combined and developed by all five players. A brief but striking passage in the recapitulation is scored for the strings alone, with just a pedal-tone from the piano. The "Andante un poco adagio" movement is a song-like interlude, its gently-paced serenity a marked contrast to the hard-driving intensity of the previous movement. Tension and fast-paced figurations return in the "Allegro" Scherzo, with its quick mood changes and its juxtapositions of loud and soft dynamics, major and minor modes, duple and triple meters. The finale opens "Poco sostenuto" and continues as an "Allegro non troppo" rondo movement, with the same kinds of subtle, ongoing thematic variations as characterized the beginning.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed October 25 and 26, 1992

Performance Audio

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