Mozart and Brahms First Piano Quartets in g minor.

25 posts / 0 new
Last post
Mozart and Brahms First Piano Quartets in g minor.

I happened to attend a local concert of the First Piano Quartets by Mozart and Brahms, both in the key of g minor. It was an interesting idea for the organisers to juxtapose and, eventually, compare these too significant and pivotal works in this rare medium of the genre of Chamber Music with Piano.

For Mozart, any work in the minor mode plays an important or at least interesting role in his vast Opus. He was so inextricably linked with the tragic power of this key that people usually overlook that he only wrote five works in g minor, three of them in his Chamber Music (his magnificent String Quintet, K.516 and one of his two Variation sets for Violin and Pianoforte, the K.360, and the First Piano Quartet).

The work is an example of a perfected and at the same time superbly inspired and developed specimen of this medium, with a unique and impressive First movement heralding even Beethoven, a gloriously gentle slow movement in the relative major (B-flat) and a greatly formulated and inspired Finale, in a rather complex Sonata-Rondo form, in the tonic major (G major).

On the other hand, the First Piano Quartet by Brahms is a very important work both in furthering of the medium, particularly in the Romantic period but also in the development of the composer. It is a work of huge proportions, expanding on other already large works by Brahms. Each movement is laid out on an almost gigantic scale, using at the same time a turbulent Romantic musical language with a self-assured and almost symphonic mastery of musical design.

This monumental and exhausting work has four well-conceived and developed movements: a gloriously complex First Movement of a sprawling exposition and a well-elaborated development in an expanding Sonata-Form, an extended Second Movement called "Intermezzo" (intead of a brief Scherzo) in c minor, a most beautiful and intensely lyrical slow movment (the only movement in a major mood, in E-flat) with an assertive central march in C major and a virtuoso showpiece as the Finale, almost a tour-de-force of exhilarating rhythm and melodic invention in a well-sectionalised Rondo of clearly gypsy-inspired music.

Based on the interested forum-members (if any), we might examine each movement separately along with various notable recordings.

If interest goes, by any chance, further, we might also throw some light in Faure's Second Piano Quartet, also in g minor, although not a work in the same league as those by Mozart and Brahms.

Parla

parla wrote:

parla wrote:

For Mozart, any work in the minor mode plays an important or at least interesting role in his vast Opus. He was so inextricably linked with the tragic power of this key that people usually overlook that he only wrote five works in g minor, three of them in his Chamber Music........

Well, you can also add the Andante from Piano Concerto No.10 K456 and Ach, ich fuhls from the Magic Flute........both important when it comes to understanding Mozart and G Minor. You don't want to be misled by the headline tonality for multi-movement works........

As for the proposed discussion, you'd have to count me out. I don't know the Brahms. I have made repeated efforts to get to grips with Brahms, but I just can't. Apart from a small handful of pieces, I find his works unbearably congested. I also detest the searing, in-your-face "emotion" - those horrible spikes of romantic yearning which keep building and building. He is slowly becoming the only major Romantic composer I don't enjoy.......

parla wrote:

parla wrote:

On the other hand, the First Piano Quartet by Brahms is a very important work both in furthering of the medium, particularly in the Romantic period but also in the development of the composer.

 

an extended Second Movement called "Intermezzo" (intead of a brief Scherzo) in c minor, 

Parla

Brahms’ chamber music, like Bax’s, strikes me as orchestral music struggling to get into a smaller suit, a characteristic that at one time used to inhibit its enjoyment for me, but no longer. It’s glorious stuff, the piano quartets especially. 

Coincidentally, mention of Brahm’s treatment of the scherzo form also brings a comparison with Bax. By the late 19th C it was a rather tired aspect of the standard symphonic format, certainly so by the time Bax was composing. He solved the problem by either omitting it altogether or combining it with either the slow movement or finale. Typically, Brahms faced the ‘problem’ head on, nodding to its traditional role as an interlude but giving it new form and purpose (yes, I know, Beethoven did something similar in the 5th symphony!). The poco allegretto of the 3rd Symphony, like the Intermezzo of first piano quartet, is a fine example of Brahms’ reinvention of the scherzo’s role.
Domus give pleasing accounts of the Brahms Piano Quartets, recordings I treasure as much for their slight understatement in works that can sound a bit bloated (thank you Jane) as for their well-balanced recording.

G minor in Mozart and the access to the mastery of Brahms.

Well, Jane, none can deny that any composer may insert movements, moments, modulations, trios or parts in g minor. However, the signature key is the identity of the work in question, leading the composer, the performers and the audience to a different journey. By all means, Mozart used minor keys in some of his compositions as a natural choice of the key signature, e.g. the f-sharp minor slow movement of his Piano Concerto no.23 or the c minor slow movement of his Piano Concerto no.9 as well as the g minor slow movement of his Concerto no 18, not no. 10 (i.e. the relative minor keys of the A major, E-flat major and B-flat of these works respectively). However, the musical "journey" is lead by the signature keys (start, recapitulation, key modulations...conclusion). There would have been a completely different story, if we had a Concerto in f-sharp minor with a middle movement in A major.

The very significant feature of the First Piano Quartet is that the g minor is used only in the First Movement, but it is enough to put its mark in the whole work in such a way that the slow movement and the Finale may work perfectly, in the relative and tonic major, as a response to the long vehement (even in a most refined way) statement of the opening movement. Somehow, Beethoven, in his most famous c minor Symphony (the Fifth), practically used the minor mode in the First Movement and briefly (in the outer sections) in the Scherzo (the slow movement is in A-flat, the Trio of the Scherzo and the Finale in the tonic major. However, the dominant character of the First Movement defines the work).

In Operas, the tonality is of much less importance, since their identity is defined by other features in their long development than the tonality of the Overture and the Finale.

The proposed discussion is not necessarily on the basis of comparison of the two works by Mozart and Brahms. One can feel free to comment on any aspect of each work.

As for Brahms, you may try to listen each movement separately. This is a huge work to deal with in one go. You may try first the slow movement, in its outer parts and then the central part (the march) ot jump to the final pages of the work, the most exhilarating truly exciting music Brahms ever conceived and left in paper. In Youtube, there is a very fine performance (it is vey sad that it has never been recorded in a CD format) with Tetzlaff, Zimmermann, Cl. Hagen and Andsnes. It might help you to see this work in a more...friendly and entertaining way.

Finally, in the Romantic period, one has to be ready to deal with "those horrible spikes of romantic yearning", whenever there is a musical architecture of majestic perspective and a quite meaningful design (of course, we cannot expect the pefection of Classical period).

Your comments are always welcome Jane.

Parla

 

More about Brahms.

You are quite right, Tagalie, that at least some of Brahms' chamber music sounds too "orchestral" (the pianist of the performance I attended told me that the writing of the Piano in this Quartet is one of the most "symphonic" he has ever encountered, while the Viola player jokingly complained that Brahms could not afford a second violin player and added enough extra notes to the viola!). No wonder that it is one of the very few works of Chamber Music that another major composer orchestrated it for full Symphonic Orchestra (Schoenberg).

In any case, it is a marvel to follow the details of the score that are totally missed in any orchestral version, such as that the violin is the only string instrument that plays muted in the entire second movement (the "Interlude") against the "strongest" unmuted voices of the viola and cello, giving a very different and uniquely darker but refined sound in the whole piece. 

For performances, there are enough to choose. Domus is always a secure choice. However, for a stronger, more passionate one, you may try the Argerich, Kremer, Bashmet, Maisky one on DG.

Parla

That must've been a very

That must've been a very enjoyable concert. Both pieces happen to be my favourite works for piano quartet. I agree that Mozart's almost sounds like Beethoven (the first movement). His piano concerto no. 24 comes to mind too. Brahms' is wonderful, and I also think that, other than the last movement,  it benefits from certain understatement (that’s why I’m not so keen on Argerich’s recording). Its symphonic character is pointed out often enough, but the great prodigality of themes (first movement) is probably more related to the great spell under which Brahms was at the time: Schubert. The same goes for his second piano quartet, which is arguably his longest instrumental work, piano concerto no.2 included.

 

Brahms's quartet uses a clever little trick in its first movement. It starts the development section with a re-statement of the main theme in the tonic, giving the false impression of being the usual repeat. The device wasn't uncommon, I think, and the first illustrious example I know of is Beethoven's wonderful Razumovski first quartet, first movement. The difference is that when Brahms then starts the recap he does so with the secondary theme that follows the main one, omitted this time, and in this way it gives an impression of a great arch extending over the whole movement. Like Beethoven, Brahms leaves out the actual exposition repeat, for obvious reasons.

 

I think there is a little irony Jane, in your distaste for Brahms: after all he was the most classically inclined Romantic composer, perhaps with the exception of Mendelssohn.

 

Lately I've been enjoying Angelich and Capucon Brother's version.

camaron wrote:I think there

camaron wrote:

I think there is a little irony Jane, in your distaste for Brahms: after all he was the most classically inclined Romantic composer........

Well, that's certainly what people always say. And at the level of architecture and formal structure etc, it is probably true (not that I am fit to judge such matters: I am only stating the conventional view). But at the same time, I find the "spirit" of the music to be far more "romantic" than other composers of the same era. Bruckner, for instance, is far more austere and contemplative in overall spirit. And Wagner, while he is certainly not a classicist at the level of formal devices etc, generally covers a different (and wider) emotional terrain. Only very occasionally, and only when the drama reaches a particular climax, do we get "romantic" music as most people would understand it. 

These things - "romantic" etc - are obviously hard to define, but I dislike Brahms for the same reason I dislike most Rachmaninov and most Tchaikovsky. Ignoring the many obvious differences between the three (before some helpful pedant copies and pastes a chunk from Wikipedia.........), they all have that same core spirit for me: the boiling, yearning, semi-Hollywood, wrenching, heart-on-a-sleeve, too-much-emotion thing...........After a few minutes of listening to this nauseating goop, I find I have to detox with the pure spring-water of Bach or Mozart.

It was more than a mere...

It was more than a mere "enjoyable" concert, Camaron. It was educational, revelatory (because of the juxtaposition of these two g minor works) and a bit exhausting (in the program there were two more shorter works and an encore).

Some comments on your post:

It is true that, usually, one can only be impressed by the almost violently strong tone of the opening unison of Mozart's First Piano Quartet Allegro, in such a way that it is easy to overlook the deep contrast of the second element of the theme (the delicate, almost charming piano run and what follows). However, the opening unison theme dominates as for the impression it can give to the movement, in a way that we can have such an experience mostly in Beethoven's music. However, even in this almost violent and vehement movement, the refinement and an almost concealed charm is virtually omnipresent.

As for the Brahms' work in the same key, Schubert might be, to a certain degree, the "spell", but Brahms moved his great early masterpiece to ways much beyond his "mentor". His First Piano Quartet is a trademark work of his early maturity, with adherrence to some forms of Classical architecture and structure but also contributing to the creation of new ways to expand and further develop them.

There are quite a few "innovations" or "little tricks" (as you put it) throughout the work, but most emphatically in the quite complex and rich First Movement. Even the final Rondo is admirable for the very well organised, albeit meticulously developed, sections.

As for some very notable performances of Brahms Quartet, I may suggest the following ones:

- D. Hope, D. Finkel, Wu Han, P. Neubauer. A rare, almost not at all advertised recording on DG, but very rewarding with excellent piano playing by Wu Han and splendid response from the brilliant string players,  in a very satisfactory recording.

- E. Giles and members of the Amadeus Quartet. A classic wonderful performance, marred only by the rather aged recording.

- Beaux Arts Trio with W. Trampler. Another Classic performance, formerly on Philips, but now available in a great remastered SACD format, on Pentatone.

- Mozart Piano Quartet, on MDG. A modern classic performance by a very specialised to this genre group, in a splendid SACD recording.

Parla

Brahms the not so badly "romantic".

I really cannot figure out which are these "other composers of the same era" who were less "romantic". Bruckner was an extreme exception to the extent that some musicians believe that he does not belong to any specific period and, definitely, he is not the clear specimen of what is a composer of the Romantic period. 

In any case, Brahms, exactly because of his respect to the Classical forms, he protected his works from all these "features" you attributes to his Music. I cannot recall, except for only the themes of few movements, any work in his Chamber Music that is full of boiling yearning etc. 

Taking the work of this thread, for example, I cannot imagine that someone will be put off because of all these attributes you mentioned, Jane. The First Movement is that rich and complex that requires enough attention (and dedication) just to follow it.

The second movement, already a c minor innovative "scherzo", is more melancholic than utterly "romantic", interrupted by a more assertive Animato Trio.

The Slow Movement has the more "romantic" theme in the whole work, but the key feature is the beauty of the melody than any other one might identify. The actual melody is emotionally rich but is also powerful, while the central part is dominated by a quite strong march in a strong C major.

 As for the Finale, the Gypsy theme in the quite complex Rondo form with five contrasting sections and a most exhilarating well developed coda leaves little room for the attentive listener to indulge in these highly "romantic" attributes with which you are preoccupied.

Parla

Alright, Parla. I will listen

Alright, Parla. I will listen to the whole thing later this evening (working now........). I do like some Brahms pieces (I also play a few of his late pieces on piano), though as I have said, I struggle to appreciate the bulk of his output. Any suggestion for a recording that emphasises the "classical" nature of the piece? Less vibrato is always a good thing, as far as I am concerned........

Alright, Jane. Go ahead.

Any recording of the four recordings I mentioned in my reply to Camaron (above). Perhaps, the one on MDG might help you vis a vis the more cassical romantic of the old school or the strong view of the Argerich one (on DG).

However, you might enjoy more the work with the Youtube one I mentioned in my post #4 with the great group of four modern superb soloists (Tetzlaff, Zimmerman, C. Hagen and Andsnes) from a live performance. I hope one day they may record this work. Although I very rarely resort to or suggest Youtube, in this case, I found this performance as one of the most convincing, entertaining and fully engaging.

However, you may need more than one go. This is a very demanding, complex but also quite rewarding work.

Parla

Pages

Log in or register to post comments

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019