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Work

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms Composer

Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op.26   

Performances: 15
Tracks: 60
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Musicology:
  • Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op.26
    Key: A
    Year: 1861
    Genre: Other Chamber
    Pr. Instrument: Piano Quartet
    • 1.Allegro non troppo
    • 2.Poco adagio
    • 3.Scherzo: Poco allegro
    • 4.Finale: Allegro
Johannes Brahms completed his Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26, in 1861. It is the companion piece to the composer's first piano quartet, Op. 25, which was written in the same year. This second quartet is a testament to the composer's love of Schubert's music and Vienna, the city that Brahms was fated to adopt. By the time Brahms had relocated to Vienna from Hamburg there was a revival of interest in Schubert's instrumental music and chamber music in general. Earlier in the century there was no chamber music being performed because the leader of the only professional string quartet had died in 1830. Nearly 20 years later, the Hellmesberger Quartet was founded, focusing on Schubert's unpublished chamber works. Brahms' first two piano quartets made a large impression on the ensemble, which premiered both of them.

Brahms made Schubert's chamber music the focus of several years of careful study in the second half of the 1850s. This is audible in the Op. 26 Piano Quartet insofar as the phrases hang together with a loose ease that builds upon the music's overall form with a deceptive effortlessness. What Brahms brings to the table is a concentration of incident; there is a broader palette of variety in his music, more new ways of presenting the material so that it continues to be fresh and reinforced concurrently. The opening is "polychoral": the piano and the trio each make statements separately and then together, which sets the stage for two separate musical bodies to play against each other. And like Schubert, Brahms does not shy away from including popular references in his music, including a burst of schmaltzy waltz music in the quartet's second movement, a Romanze featuring an overall discipline that allows for the occasional glimpse into camp without lowing the music's overall standard. The composer labeled this movement "Night Piece," and it takes strange risks such as the one described, remaining afloat as only Schubert or Brahms could. (Schoenberg in his String Quartet No. 1 continued this tradition of including possibly disastrous popular themes to a sublime effect.) Brahms was in many ways the conduit between the First Viennese School of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, and the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. His historical importance could not be more real, and his music is worth every bit of fuss attributed to it.

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