Day 323: String Quartet No. 3, Piano Quartet No. 1

BrahmsCD17Okay. Now we’re talkin’.

This string quartet is more like it!

Or maybe I’m just hopped up on Tim Hortons’ coffee and Boston Cream donuts.

But something feels different about String Quartet No. 3 in B flat Op. 67.

Movement I (“Vivace”) is lively and fun. Even the much slower Andante of Movement II isn’t putting me to sleep (I’m not ruling out the coffee, though).

Nope. Movement III (“Agitato – Allegretto non troppo”) is also interesting, even though I feel kind of…oh, I don’t know…agitated.

Finally, Movement IV (“Poco allegretto con variazioni”) finishes up Brahms’ third string quartet in fine form, sounding very Baroque like. Plus, there’s that humorous-sounding pizzicato happening. Never fails to put a smile on my face.

Once again, the performers on this string quartet are:

Tokyo Quartet
Peter Oundjian, Kikuei Ideka violins
Kazuhide Isomura viola
Sadao Harada cello

From its entry on Wikipedia:

The String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67, was composed by Johannes Brahms in the summer of 1875 and published by the firm of Fritz Simrock. It received its premiere performance on October 30, 1876 in Berlin. The work is scored for two violins, viola, and cello, and has four movements:

Brahms composed the work in Ziegelhausen, near Heidelberg, and dedicated it to Professor Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann, an amateur cellist who had hosted Brahms on a visit to Utrecht. Brahms was at the time the artistic director of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The work is light-hearted and cheerful, “a useless trifle,” as he put it, “to avoid facing the serious countenance of a symphony”.

Brahms was 42 when he composed this string quartet.

The second composition Continue reading

Day 322: String Quartets 1 & 2

BrahmsCD16I expect big things from today’s CD.

String quartets are usually where a composer can shine.

Some of my favorite music is a string quartet.

So my ears are wide open this morning, watching the thunderstorm roll through, sipping a hot cup of coffee. Ear buds in.

I have all the time I need to listen to Brahms.

Which is what I am doing.

However, so far, I’m not impressed.

Here’s what’s on Brahms CD 16:

String Quartet No. 1 in C minor Op. 51 No. 1

String Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op. 51 No. 2

From their entry on Wikipedia:

Johannes Brahms’s String Quartets Nos. 1 in C minor and 2 in A minor were completed in Tutzing, Bavaria, during the summer of 1873, and published together that autumn as Opus 51. They are dedicated to his friend Theodor Billroth.

Brahms was slow in writing his first two string quartets. We know from a letter from Joseph Joachim that a C-minor quartet was in progress in 1865, but it may not have been the same work that would become Opus 51 No. 1 in 1873. Four years before publication, however, in 1869, we know for certain that the two quartets were complete enough to be played through. But the composer remained unsatisfied. Years passed. New practice runs then occurred in Munich, probably in June 1873, and Brahms ventured south of the city to the small lakeside town of Tutzing for a summer respite. There, with the Würmsee (as Lake Starnberg was then called) and the Bavarian Prealps as backdrop, he put the finishing touches on the two quartets.

He was 40 years old at the time of publication. Brahms regarded the string quartet as a particularly important genre. He reportedly destroyed some twenty string quartets before allowing the two Op. 51 quartets to be published.[1] At least one of the quartets (No. 1 in C minor) had been complete as early as 1865 but Brahms continued to revise it for nearly a decade.

Performers are:

Tokyo Quartet
Peter Oundjian, Kikuei Ideka violins
Kazuhide Isomura viola
Sadao Harada cello

The music is played with deftness, precision, and confidence.

But it’s just not moving me.

What I’m not necessarily hearing in this music is the sound of ice cubes tinkling against the sides of glasses, indulgent laughter from men and women trying to impress one another, and a murmur of a crowd oohing and ahhing over art they have no hope of understanding, explaining, or even liking.

In other words, one of the things a string quartet reminds me of is the music played during a wine-and-cheese soiree at an art gallery.

This doesn’t sound like that. It’s not Baroque-y enough or something.

It just sounds like great musicians playing average music, lots of music written in the same tempo – with the one possible exception being Movement IV (“Allegro non assai”) from String Quartet No. 2 in A minor Op. 51 No. 2. I thought I heard a little life in that composition. But I wasn’t sure.

Am I too hard on Brahms?

Maybe Brahms following Beethoven wasn’t such a good idea.

Maybe if I scheduled Brahms after Haydn this would sound like something Olympian gods handed down to mere mortals.