Ludwig van Beethoven
1770 - 1827)

Quartet for Piano and Strings in E flat, Op.16



Grave - Allegro ma non troppo



Andante cantabile




The Opus 16 Quartet was composed in 1796 and scored for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. This was the ancestor of the present work. It was dedicated to one of Beethoven’s aristocratic patrons, Prince Josef von Schwarzenberg and premiered in Vienna on April 6, 1797. A few days later a second performance took place in a concert organised by Antonio Salieri- with the composer himself at the keyboard, and in the presence of the Imperial Family. It was later in 1801 (the year of the first Symphony) that Beethoven recast the quintet as a quartet presumably at the request of his publisher for it appeared in print that same year. Described two years later in the Viennese press as “clever, serious, full and deep significance and character but occasionally a little too daring” it would seem, in retrospect and in the context of Beethoven’s subsequent work somewhat indebted to Mozart, and certainly considerably less “shocking” than it appeared to his immediate contemporaries.

(1756 - 1791)

 Piano Quartet in G minor, K478










In 1785 Mozart was commissioned by his publisher friend Franz Anton Hoffmeister to write three quartets for piano and strings. In itself the form was unusal, the piano trio being the preferred chamber music idiom in Vienna at the time. Also unusal was Mozart's treatment of the piano as an equal partner in the music. Other works of that period, with similar instrumentation, were generally constructed like miniature concerti, with the keyboard in an accompanying role. The G minor Quartet K478 was completed in that same year of 1785. It did not sell well, perhaps because of its revolutionary style but more probably because of the challenging nature of its piano part. It is likely that the amateur musicians of the day found it entirely too difficult. According to Nissen, an early biographer of Mozart, Hoffmeister allowed Mozart to keep the cash advance on the commission of the three quartets on the understanding that he not write another. Luckily for us, he wrote a second quartet in Eb major K493 and it was published by Artaria.

Johannes Brahms
(1833 - 1897)

Piano Quartet in A major, Op.26



Allegro non troppo



Poco Adagio



Scherzo: Poco Allegro



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 chamber music stopped being performed here 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's first two piano quartets made a large impression on the ensemble, who premiered the A major Quartet with Brahms at the piano.

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 of strings each make statements separately and then together, which sets the stage for two separate musical bodies to play against each other. The slow movement is one of the most glorious Brahms ever conceived. The piano's tranquil, song-like opening theme, shadowed by the muted strings, is developed at length in ever-more floridly decorated statements. The composer labeled this movement "Nachtstuck". The third movement starts with a simple, gently flowing opening in the strings, with a more animated bridge passage leading to the second subject. This passage is turned into a more fiery trio with a distinct Hungarian flavour. The vigorous Finale is a spacious sonata form with a strong Gypsy tint whose abundance of themes Brahms juxtaposed and wove together with consummate mastery of mood and structure.


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