Piano Quartet in A major Op.26

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
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Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Performance date: 03/07/2009

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1861

Duration: 00:45:00

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:Piano Quartet/Piano Quintet

Artists: Jeremy Menuhin - [piano]
Marc Coppey - [cello]
Jennifer Stumm - [viola]
Hagai Shaham - [violin]

in 1860 had been through a turmoil of emotional catastrophe and artistic
humiliation that would have destroyed most people. He had been witness to the
madness and death of his benefactor, Robert Schumann; there was his passionate
involvement and ultimate break with Clara Schumann; and then the bitter fiasco
of the Leipzig Gewandhaus premiere of his D minor Concerto, where he was hissed
off stage. This last incident showed him how precarious was his life as a
vagabond composer and how he could not afford the artistic compromises that
normal family life would entail. This conviction led to another romantic
disaster when he brutally ended his engagement to Agathe von Siebold. And the
final stab in the back came in November 1862 when his hometown, Hamburg, turned down his
application to become the principal conductor of the city’s Philharmonic
Orchestra and appointed one of his close friends, who had no orchestral
experience whatsoever. But his self-confidence was resilient, after the debacle
at Leipzig he
wrote to Joachim: The failure has made no
impression whatever on me. I believe this is the best thing that could happen
to one; it forces one to concentrate one’s thoughts and increases one’s
courage. After all, I am only experimenting and feeling my way as yet. But the
hissing was too much of a good thing, wasn’t it?

Brahms was in Vienna when the news from Hamburg
the city of music where he could still meet people who had been there for the
concerts of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. And so with his dream of a
permanent place in his home city forever banished, he allowed himself to be
seduced by the magic of
One of his first concerts there included a performance of this A-major Piano
Quartet. It was badly received by the ruthless critic Eduard Hanslick –
the themes are insignificant, dry and
prosaic, there is continual pulling together and taking apart, preparation
without objective, promise without fulfilment
– but Clara loved it and it
was frequently performed.

The A-major Piano
Quartet is a big work in every sense, where Brahms luxuriates in his rich
supply of lyrical melodies with an almost symphonic scale of argument. The
first movement is enormous and, despite the easy, good-natured effect, the
sonata form structure is closely worked. It provides an early example of what
  called Brahms’ developing variation technique, where no
sooner is a theme stated that it begins evolving both melodically and
harmonically, often with new keys flowing through it.
  So the listener is immediately engaged by the
lyricism of the themes and then intellectually as well as emotionally caught up
in their continuous development. That said the conventional signposts of
exposition, development and so on are respected but not slavishly adhered to.
The opening subject also gives immediate notice of the work’s rhythmic
complexities, showing two rhythmically distinct halves, which are magnificently
balanced throughout the movement. The development shows the symphonic potential
of the material, while the recapitulation makes much of the gorgeous second

The Poco Adagio has
a languidly delicious, nocturnally muted theme of idealised love that is
bleakly invaded by sinister diminished sevenths, arpeggiated in the lowest
reaches of the piano, alternating with a two note motif in the strings. This is
brushed aside several times but it returns to haunt the F-minor middle section.
The hushed perfection of the theme’s last appearance in the coda is one of
Brahms’ most idyllic moments.

The Scherzo is in
sonata form, yet another new structural venture. The themes are again flowing
and light-hearted, most unlike the normal Brahms Scherzo. The Trio is a canon
on a slight rhythmic figure, whose precision builds up a powerful source of
energy. This energy is released with the Hungarian-style theme that presides
over the sonata form Finale. This movement takes its time in a magisterial way
creating a mood of relaxed strength that easily balances the length and
argument of the first movement within the Quartet as a whole. The Hungarian
theme is finally allowed to break out of this mood and let itself go in the
wild prestissimo coda.