Notes on Brahms Piano Quintet in f minor Op. 34: If at first you don’t succeed try, try again…

by Mimi Morris Kim

Johannes Brahms’ piano quintet had a long and difficult gestation. He composed it initially as a string quintet in 1862, modeling it after the great cello quintet of Franz Schubert. He sent the first three movements to his friends and mentors, pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Their enthusiasm for the piece was decidedly tempered. Joachim said, “what it is lacking, is, in a word, charm.” Brahms went back to the drawing board. The next year he presented it and performed it in concert as a two piano work. The reviews were not great. Clara Schumann praised its musical substance and urged him to edit it further. In 1864 Brahms rewrote it again and this time scored it as a piano quintet: string quartet plus piano. The third time, the iteration we are performing on this concert, proved to be the elusive charm that Joachim sought.

The work has 4 movements. For me, it is fascinating to hear the influence of Schubert throughout. The grand and tragic first movement has counterpoint that harkens closely to the music box, doily-like intricacy of Schubert’s quartet writing. The second movement is imbued with the lyricism of a Schubert lied. The third movement with its dogged wrestling between Db and C comes close to a direct quotation of the final moment of the Schubert quintet. The 4th movement is its own animal. I had never quite understood how Schoenberg considered Brahms the father of modernism until I studied the beginning of this movement. The opening is mysterious, creepy even in its harmonic ambiguity. The rest of the movement, a gypsy hybrid of rondo and sonata form, is more conventional. In this movement, we can see Brahms handily pointing both forwards and backwards in time.

We welcome you to join us on February 23rd at Eastern University’s Fowler Hall and on February 24th at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, to hear this wonderful quintet. Also on the program, Amy Beach’s String Quartet in One Movement, Op. 89 and Mozart’s String Quartet in Eb, K. 428. 

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.