Brahms Piano Quintet in f, Op.34
This piece underwent several transformations before Brahms was finally satisfied with it. Originally, he had written the piece for string quintet; it did not fully satisfy either him or friends of his such as Clara Schumann (Robert 's wife and talented pianist) and Joseph Joachim (virtuoso violinist). Both friends expressed their admiration for the music, but also doubts as to the all-string instrumentation. So the quintet became a Sonata for Two Pianos, which was not received well by the public. Finally, in 1864 Brahms reworked the piece to its present form: a quintet for piano and string quartet. In listening to the work, one is not at all aware of the long journey of its creation, but only of the richness and deep musical thought in this masterpiece.
This work is a good example of Brahms' attitude towards music in
general. He strove to uphold rigorous Classical structural ideals, while
still infusing his music with a Romantic sense of emotion. Brahms'
emotion, in fact, often requires thick textures. This is the reason
that a large part of his chamber output was for 5 or 6 voices, and
often called for multiple notes from the string instruments.
Indeed, this is also a huge part of the reason why he had so much
trouble in writing string
quartets. This is also touched upon in the discussion about his
String Quartet in c, op.51
Hear Movements 1-3
Movement 1 | Movement 2 | Movement 3 | Movement 4
Recorded: in the TJHSST Auditorium on July 28-29, 1999
Piano: Stephanie Lai;
Violins: Michael Wilber, 1st; Jennifer Tom, 2nd;
Viola: Roger Yu;
Cello: Charles Han;
The piece starts off compactly, with a deeply felt theme played in unison by the piano, violin, and cello. After a suspenseful hold, the piano begins to utter a series of long-breathed phrases, accented by chords in the strings; then the first subject breaks through in a dramatic outburst of emotion. By this point, the piece has exerted a great deal of energy; now, the second and third themes provide a slightly less dramatic experience as the exposition draws to a close. The development, like the exposition, is quite concentrated. Rather than create conflict and contrast, this section contains meditative passages based on the first and second themes. There is a climactic moment here based on the second subject. The first subject, however, will not be seen in any kind of climax until the very final section of the movement, where the theme returns with several times the vigor than what it originally had entered with.
The second movement is based more or less on a principal theme, and on related ideas that supplement it. Brahms takes care here to keep the music flowing at all times, letting the lyricism of the melody carry you away. In strictly technical terms the music is in an A-B-A format, but each idea flows so well into the next that this scheme is well disguised from the casual listener.
The third movement is well populated with distinct themes. We hear the first one right away with the violin and viola playing the syncopated theme; the second one comes soon after, with its tense rhythmic shape; the third comes in a glorious explosion, seeting the stage for the developments to follow. For the remainder of the movement, Brahms plays around with these three themes and lets his creative mind run around. Only the Trio section brings some sense of stability to all this frenetic activity, but we are soon returned to the opening syncopated melody.
Regretfully, we could not record the final movement for you to
listen to here. It begins with an intense slow introduction
(described by our violinist Jennifer Tom as sounding "like a
haunted house"). The tension built up here is released with the
onset of the Allgro non troppo section. Once again in this
movement, we see a bevy of themes: a folklike melody, a lyrical
meditation, a vigorous romp, and variations thereof. These themes
basically battle for prominence as the movement builds to a closing
section of tremendous energy.
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