Program Notes: Brahms Piano Quartet

by Jack Bryce

Carleton College Professor Emeritus

Board Member

Listen below to a recording of Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Program Notes: Brahms’ Piano Quartet

Johannes Brahms (Hamburg, 1833 – Vienna, 1897) wrote the Piano Quartet in G minor, op. 25, in 1861, at the beginning of his first maturity, just a year before his first trip to Vienna; there, armed with introductions from Clara Schumann and other friends, he gave solo and chamber concerts including this piece which brought him into prominence in the circles of the great musical capital.  The work, dedicated to Baron Reinhard von Dalwigk, is innovative in length, nearly three quarters of an hour long; and its use of Gypsy music in the finale, Brahms’s first venture into this territory, mirrors Haydn’s innovation in the piano trio we heard earlier this afternoon.

The first movement, Allegro, is one of Brahms’s darkest and most tragic, featuring an extended exposition introducing three themes.  Beginning what became a personal trademark, the development starts with the first theme once again, unaltered; the recapitulation is somewhat abbreviated after the huge proportion of the exposition.  Another innovation in this quartet is that a scherzo-like movement comes second rather than third; in fact Brahms retitled it Intermezzo (Allegro ma non troppo; Trio, animato) because of its somewhat subdued character, and rather grand scale.  The main theme of the third movement (Andante con moto; animato) is intensely lyrical; the mid section is a march in three-quarter time, lengthy and brilliant.  The fourth movement, Rondo alla Zingarese – Presto, is another innovation for Brahms, his first sally into Gypsy music.  His Hungarian violinist friend, Josef Joachim, declared it an accurate imitation of Hungarian idioms, and the breathless conclusion may be his gutsiest, most exciting music of all.  A more recent admirer of the piece, composer Arnold Schönberg, brilliantly orchestrated it.  Now could we persuade Osmo to program that, I wonder?

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