Budapest String Quartet, David Oppenheim
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String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67
Brahms completed his third string quartet during the summer of 1875, which he spent in Heidelberg. The first movement, Vivace, is in sonata form with three dancing, light-hearted themes not unlike nom calls. The exposition of these three fanfare motifs leads to the development, bringing in, sotto voce, a very poetically presented melodic idea. The recapitulation is in the same vein as the exposition, and it is crowned by a coda closing the movement in a joyful, brilliant manner.
The second movement. Andante, is a kind of snort Lied or romance which begins somewhat meditatively and changes into a dreamy, Schumann-like ambience. The central episode is based upon a theme of a more rhythmic nature. Then the beginning returns and leads to a peaceful coda.
The third movement, Agitato (Allegretto non troppo) assumes the shape but has little of the character of a scherzo. It is an elegiacal, doleful piece in which the viola is still more prominent than elsewhere. The whole forms a son of intermezzo.
The finale, Poco allegretto con variazioni, consists of a theme, eight variations, and a coda. The theme, of the nature of a Volksliedis remarkable - as always with Brahms - for the way in which both the melodic design and the bass are well adapted to the variation form. All the variations constantly show contrapuntal interest but this is particularly true of the first three. The following three form a group of a concenante nature, and especially notable are the syncopations of the sixth. The seventh variation. Doppio movimento, returns to the opening theme of the first movement, as does the eighth. The coda is a long passage (lasting seventy-five measures) in which the theme of the finale is used in augmented form above an accompaniment again borrowed from the fanfare motif of the opening movement.
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115
Mozart, Weber, and Brahms wrote major chamber works for the clarinet, and all three were encouraged to do so by meeting an exceptional muscian on that instrument: Johann Stadler for Mozart. Heinrich Barmann for Weber and Richard Mtihlfeld for Brahms. In the case of Brahms there was even an unexpected return to creativity. Indeed, after finishing his second string quintet (Op. III) in 1890, Brahms considered he had found the best possible conclusion to his composing career and decided to write nothing more, to enjoy, "in some glorious farniente, a short period between life and death" But in March 1891. while he was staving (as was his wont) in Meiningen, he heard Richard Muhlfeld, the clarinetist in the Grand Duke's orchestra. Enthralled by his playing. Brahms spent several days with him having him explain the instrument's possibilities, and during the summer of 1891 he completed in Bad-Ischl both the Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello, and piano. Op. 114 and the Quintet in B minor for clarinet and strings, Op. 115.
Brahms was always haunted by the idea of death and he finished Op. 114 and 115 two months after writing his will. Although the Quintet evokes the evening of life, its melancholy nevertheless remains bathed in a soothing light. "As if in a diary, Brahms seemed to look back into his past....which included many peaceful yet satisfying periods of joy. Such a look backwards cannot but result in a certain degree of melancholy,...which combined with another feeling, that end-of-the-century nostalgia which struck many artists at the time, that vague 'world-sorrow' which the Germans called Weltschmerz' (Claude Rostand).
The Quintet in B minor was an immediate success, even in France. Its first private performance occurred in Meiningen on November 24,1891. In Berlin on December 10, when its first public rehearsal took place, the audience wished the entire work to be encored, but only the second movement was. At the performance on the following day the public reacted in the same way. Like Mozart in 1789 and Max Reger later, Brahms had succeeded in intimately uniting clarinet and strings.
Opus 115 begins with an Allegro (B minor, 6/8) in sonata form with a rather short development; the thematic germs of this movement bear fruit in the other three. As in Haydn's two string quartets in B minor (Op. 33 No. I and Op. 64 No. 2) the opening leads the listener to wonder whether the key is not in fact D major. After Tour introductory measures given to the strings and offering the essential thematic material of the piece, the clarinet takes over one of the motifs already; heard and makes of it a soaring melody that will return at the end of the work.
There follows a magnificent Adagio (B major, 3/4) in ternary (A-B-A) form. The outer sections (A) probably represent the most beautiful example of Brahms's "night music" (the strings are muted). Here the clarinet is even more of a soloist than elsewhere. The central episode (B) (Piu lento, 4/4) is another of Brahms's many homages to Hungary and its gypsy music.
The third movement begins Andantino (D major, 4/4), thereby leading us to expect a kind of intermezzo, but at the 34th measure both tempo and key change (Presto non assai ma con sentimento, B minor), and we are now in a light-hearted scherzo.
The finale. (Con mow. B minor 2/4) is a set of variations on a theme in two sections, the second of which is repeated. There are five variations: (I) the predominant role is given to the cello; (2) an agitated, syncopated variation, (3) the theme, in even sixteenth notes, passes back and forth Between the first violin and the clarinet; (4) a bright variation in the tonic major; and (5) a combination of the theme with that of the first movement, leading to a coda which is a slightly enlarged version of the end of the first movement.
-Marc Vignal (translated by Robert Cushman)