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BRAHMS: String Quintets Nos. 1 and 2

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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)

String Quintets

String Quintet No.1 in F major, Op. 88

String Quintet No.2 in G major, Op. 111

Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district ofHamburg, the son of Johann Jakob Brahms, a double-bass player, and his wife, aseamstress seventeen years his senior. As was natural, he was at first taughtmusic by his father, the violin and cello, with the intention that the boyshould follow his father's trade, but his obvious interest in the piano led tolessons on the instrument from an inspiring teacher and his first modestappearance on the concert platform at the age of ten. From this time onwards hebecame a pupil of Eduard Marxsen, who gave him a firm grounding in classicaltechnique, while he earned money for his family by playing the piano inestablishments of doubtful reputation in the St Pauli district of the port,frequented largely by sailors and others in search of amusement. By the age offifteen he had given his first solo concert as a pianist.

In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist EduardRemenyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect,and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whoseagency he met the Schumanns, then established in D??sseldorf. The connection wasan important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the music Brahms played himto hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven, and his subsequentbreak-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back toD??sseldorl to help Schumann's wife Clara and her young family. The relationshipwith Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasteduntil her death in 1896.

Further concert activity and his association with Joachim and Clara Schumannallowed Brahms to meet many of the most famous musicians of the day. In 1857 hetook a temporary position at the court of Oetmold as a conductor and pianoteacher, duties that he briefly resumed again in the following two years,continuing all the time his activity as a composer and spending much of his timein Hamburg, where his ambitions were always to centre.

Brahms first visited Vienna in 1862, giving concerts there and meeting duringthe course of the winter the critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughtychampion. The following year brought appointment as conductor of the ViennaSingakademie for the season and in 1864 he again spent the winter in the city, apattern repeated in the following years until he finally took up permanentresidence there in 1869. For the rest of his life he remained a citizen ofVienna, travelling often enough to visit friends or to give concerts, andgenerally spending the summer months in the country, where he might concentrateon composition without undue disturbance. He came in some ways to occupy aposition similar to Beethoven in the musical life of the city, his notoriousrudeness generally tolerated and his bachelor habits indulged by an admiringcircle of friends. He died in Vienna in 1897.

In the music of the second half of the nineteenth century Brahms came tooccupy a position in direct antithesis to Wagner. The latter had seen inBeethoven's great Choral Symphony the last word in symphonic music. Themusic of the future lay, he claimed, in the new form of music-drama of which hewas the sole proponent. His father-in-law Liszt similarly found the way forwardin the symphonic poem, an alloy formed from the musical and extra- musical.

Brahms, largely through the advocacy of Hanslick, found himself the champion ofpure or abstract music combined neither with drama nor any other medium. Thedistinction was in some ways an artificial one.

Nevertheless Brahms, whose background, like Beethoven's, was less literarythan that of Wagner or of Liszt, did significantly extend the range of thesymphony and was hailed by many contemporaries as the successor to Beethoven, afuture Schumann had prophesied for him twenty-three years before the firstsymphony was written. Brahms made important additions to the repertoire ofGerman song and to chamber music, in both respects continuing a tradition towhich Schumann had notably contributed. In all his music there is a remarkablecombination of traditional form and a new originality of musical language thatenabled Schoenberg to sense in him a very different kind of music of the future.

The two string quintets of Brahms, Quintet No.1 in F major, Op. 88 andQuintet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, are both scored, like the stringquintets of Mozart, for two violins, two violas and cello. The choice of twoviolas is characteristic. The register of the instrument and the richness oftexture that it can impart, whether in chamber music or in orchestral writing,was something very typical of Brahms. His first attempt at the form in 1862,using two cellos, he had destroyed, substituting an arrangement for two pianosand later a final version, the Piano Quintet in F minor. The F majorString Quintet was written in the spring of 1882 at the fashionable resortof Bad Ischl, where, with many others from Vienna, he chose to spend the summer,and given its first performance on 28th December of the same year at Frankfurtam Main. The first movement opens with a pleasing first subject, in which thesecond violin soon joins, an octave higher. The second subject, in spite of itstypical cross- rhythms, is at heart a Viennese waltz. The development of thisclassical movement includes considerable use of pedal-point, changing harmoniesand textures over sustained bass notes, the whole section reaching a dynamicclimax before the re-appearance of the first subject in varied recapitulation.

The slow movement contains its own scherzo. The key of A major had been used forthe second subject of the first movement. Now a sharper key, C sharpminor, with opening suggestions of the major, is used for the first section, inwhich the first violin melody is shared with the cello, before the violascontinue it. The thematic material was taken from a Sarabande for piano,written in 1855. A cheerful A major Allegretto vivace appears incontrast, the violins accompanied by the plucked notes of second viola andcello. The opening Grave returns, marked molto dolce, to befollowed by a Presto variation of the Allegretto vivace. The slowmusic resumes, now transformed into something more positive and in accord withthe general mood of the quintet. Two chords introduce the final Allegroenergico, followed by the statement of a fugal subject by the first viola,answered by the second violin, then the first violin, followed finally by secondviola and cello together. The long subject, suggested, perhaps, by Beethoven'sthird Razumovsky Quartet, with its fugal finale, forms the basis of whatfollows, providing unity in music of great variety. The quintet ends with afinal Presto.

It had been Brahms's intention to make the String Quintet in G major,Op.III,

his last chamber music composition. He wrote the work in the summer of 1890at Bad Ischl and it was, in fact, followed by three more, the Clarinet Trio,Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Sonatas, all of which have alternativescoring for viola instead of clarinet, although both instruments can share anautumnal feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. The G major Quintet, whichwas first performed in Vienna on 11th November in the year of its composition,starts with a movement derived from the composer's sketches for a fifthsymphony. Here he allows the cello an orchestrally
Item number 8553635
Barcode 730099463522
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Pasquier, Bruno
Pasquier, Bruno
Composers Brahms, Johannes
Brahms, Johannes
Orchestras Ludwig Quartet
Ludwig Quartet
Producers Bailliet, Emmanuelle
Bailliet, Emmanuelle
Disc: 1
String Quintet No. 2, G major, Op. 111
1 I. Allegro non troppo ma con brio
2 II. Grave ed appassionato - Allegretto vivace - Pr
3 III. Allegro energico: Presto
4 I. Allegro non troppo, ma con brio
5 II. Adagio
6 III. Un poco allegretto
7 IV. Vivace ma non troppo presto
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