STRING QUARTET NO. 1 in C MINOR,
OP. 51, NO. 1
Recording: Melos Quartet (Wilhelm Melcher, 1st
Violin; Gerhard Voss, 2nd violin; Hermann Voss,
viola; Peter Buck, cello) [DG 423 670-2]
1873. Dedicated to “his friend” Dr. Theodor Billroth in
Brahms approached the string quartet with the same deference
and reverence as the symphony. He claimed to have
destroyed 20 attempts at writing a quartet before finally
publishing the two of Op. 51 when he was 40 years old.
This was likely hyperbole, but the gestation of the two works
doubtlessly spread over several years and was certainly
preceded by numerous abortive attempts. The two earlier
sextets, Op. 18 and Op. 36, provided experience in
writing for strings, but with a bit more flexibility than the
unforgiving exposure of four instruments. The hallowed
genre was pioneered by Haydn, then developed by Mozart,
Beethoven, and Schubert. Schumann and Mendelssohn also
contributed fine examples. The Op. 51 quartets bear the
stamp of middle-period Beethoven, but filtered through the
precedent of later works. Both are relentless in their
serious logic, especially No. 1. Brahms takes the medium
to its absolute limit, packing the tightly argued forms with
an overabundance of content, albeit largely derived from the
most fundamental building blocks and motives. They
represent Brahms in his most unforgiving and intense minor-key
mood. The publication of two self-contained instrumental
works of the same genre within one opus number, common enough
with other composers, is rare for Brahms, and the only later
example is found in the last chamber works, the clarinet
sonatas of Op. 120. The pair of piano
variation sets, Op. 21, are the only precedent.
Interestingly, Schumann and Mendelssohn both published sets of
three quartets under a single opus.
The first quartet in C minor is as tragic and inexorable in
its progress as anything Brahms wrote. The outer
movements have such continuously aggressive energy that it
bleeds into the middle movements. While more gentle,
both of them have a certain level of uneasiness. The
first movement is unstable in its sense of both key and
meter. While the opening scale and downward leap
dominate proceedings (and even extend their influence to the
finale), the harmonic motion is so fluid that any sense of
arrival or respite is thwarted. The agitated 3/2 meter
is tightened in the coda to 2/2, further ratcheting up the
driving force, such that Brahms is actually compelled to apply
musical brakes, as it were, in the final bars. For all
the warmth and beauty of second movement “Romanze,” it still
has a sense of sadness, and it is pervaded by anxiously
halting rhythms, especially in the middle section. The
third movement is a superb exemplar of the Brahmsian
intermezzo or scherzo substitute. It is surprisingly
long and repetitive in comparison to the second and fourth
movements, but the relaxed tempo in the odd 4/8 meter is
balanced by further tonal instability. The nominal key
of F minor is consistently undermined with a bias toward the
quartet’s home key of C minor. The central trio section
smiles through the shadows with colorfully charming effects,
including striking approaches to both tremolo and
pizzicato. The finale is closely tied to the first
movement in substance and character. Brahms conflates
the development and recapitulation to create an especially
concise form. After avoiding firm arrivals for the
entire quartet, Brahms uses a massive cello pedal point on low
C at the very end, which leads to an almost merciless, if
incredibly satisfying resolution. The guide for the
somewhat more lyrical companion work in A minor is here.
FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
Allegro (Sonata-Allegro form). C
MINOR, 3/2 time, with coda in cut time [2/2].
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1. Ominous and agitated, but
hushed, the theme shoots upward in the first violin using a
forceful long-short (dotted) rhythm, clearly outlining the
C-minor scale and arpeggio. The viola and cello begin an
unsettled pulsation, harmonized in thirds and also
establishing C minor. The powerful ascent is almost
immediately interrupted by an equally striking downward
leap. The theme continues with two shorter ascents, also
followed by downward leaps. The second violin gradually
joins the first in a lower octave doubling. Already in
the third measure, there is a powerful crescendo.
The short fragments are followed by four continuous ascents,
each reaching higher as the cello and viola gradually slide
0:14 [m. 7]--The instruments, having attained forte,
achieve a huge arrival in two hammering chords, landing on the
“dominant” chord of G major. After the second chord is
released, the viola holds an octave G for another full
measure, having quickly receded in volume. Because of
the broad triple meter, the measures are long, so the held
octave is full of tension. After this, there is another
pair of short chords, much lower and much quieter, sliding
chromatically through the chord of G-flat major and down to F
major. Again, the viola holds an octave through the last
beat of the measure and then another full measure.
0:22 [m. 11]--The following passage could be seen as
the beginning of a long transition or as the second part of
Theme 1. It is a new idea in a new key. The F
major of the last chord is inflected to F minor, where the new
idea is played. The first violin has two similar
expressive phrases, consisting of a gentle downward motion
followed by an expansive and upward reaching continuation in
triplet rhythm. Under it, the second violin and viola
play distinct fragments of the Theme 1 material. The
cello holds slow-moving long notes. The second phrase
moves toward C, but it is C major and at first seems like a
“dominant” in F minor.
0:30 [m. 15]--There is in fact a full motion back to C
minor here, analogous to the previous shift from F major to F
minor. The preceding idea with two expressive phrases is
now played in C by the second violin. The long notes are
now played above, in the first violin, and the Theme 1
fragments are in viola and cello. The end of the second
phrase goes toward G, as would be expected, but the note
F-sharp is then used as the central note of a diversion in a
three-bar extension. The cello plays the rising line
from Theme 1 while the second violin trails down with the new
idea, then drops out and passes it to the viola. The
viola and cello quietly break off. They then play an
isolated, tense, F-sharp, a seeming “dominant” in B minor.
0:43 [m. 22]--Transition. The viola and cello
make a three-note descent that definitively moves back to C
minor. Overlapping with this, the violins in unison
(quickly spreading to octaves) charge upward in a scale
motion. Under this, the viola and cello immediately
begin an almost full statement of Theme 1, stating the first
four measures without alteration. In the second of these
measures, the violins, having ended their scale, move to a
feverish, hammering accompaniment. The first plays
downward-arching octaves while the second pulsates on repeated
0:52 [m. 27]--At this point, the viola and cello invert
the direction of the fifth and sixth measures of the theme,
and the sixth is altered harmonically to introduce the note
C-flat and the chord of A-flat minor. The violins
continue their hammering motion. After these two
measures, the same material is passed to the violins in
unison, now played in its original direction. The viola
takes over the pulsations and the cello plays long, leaping
bass notes. The A-flat-minor harmony gives way to the
related E-flat minor, and there the familiar hammering chords
are played. They are immediately repeated with the first
violin a third higher, strongly confirming E-flat minor.
The viola quickly emerges in angry upward-arching octaves.
1:02 [m. 33]--Theme 2 (E-flat minor). It is very
agitated, but hushed. The viola’s arching figures
contract from octaves and then expand, but the shape remains
consistent. It is derived from the first violin
figuration from the transition. Against it, the second
violin plays a descending arpeggio on the offbeats, resting
between the notes. It is then joined by the first
violin, and they play another arpeggio in harmony. The
cello enters with a sustained bass line, and the violins move
to heavily syncopated figures, still beginning on offbeats and
using repeated notes. These build to a widely arching
harmonized line. This reaches high, builds in volume,
then recedes as it moves to an arrival on the “dominant.”
1:17 [m. 41]--The first violin takes over the arching
motion, which now becomes prominent and moves upward.
The arching intervals are narrow. The cello, meanwhile,
takes the offbeat descending arpeggios, which confirm E-flat
minor over two measures, supported by harmonies in the two
middle instruments. The pattern is then reversed, with
the cello playing the arching lines and the first violin the
arpeggios. The harmony shifts up a fourth, to A-flat
minor. The viola takes over the arching line from the
cello in the second measure.
1:24 [m. 45]--The viola is the only instrument to play
on the downbeat, sliding up from its figuration. The
other instruments enter immediately thereafter, in full
harmony on the syncopated figures in repeated notes, as the
key abruptly shifts down a step to F-sharp minor. The
second violin maintains the active arching motion. The viola
continues to slowly slide up against the agitated
harmonies. After two measures, the level is wrenched up
again, now brightly emerging in A major (“relative” to F-sharp
minor). There is a huge crescendo, and the first
violin stalls on the half-step G-sharp—A. This is
hammered repeatedly as the other instruments play sweeping and
overlapping upward arpeggios, forming rich harmony.
1:38 [m. 53]--The harmony suddenly and forcefully
lurches to the “dominant” of E-flat, the key center of Theme
2. But now it is E-flat major, with only a few hints at
the former minor key. The arpeggios continue, shooting
up in second violin and viola, then taken by first violin,
while the cello provides a solid bass. The first violin
then emerges into sighing, almost heaving figures in
long-short rhythm while the second violin continues to churn
on the arpeggios and the viola has its own more even “sighing”
1:44 [m. 57]--On an upbeat, the violins and viola
suddenly come together in the forceful upward arpeggios.
The cello, leaping up and down, introduces the long-short
rhythm again in the next measure, but the other instruments
quickly take it up. This happens in a very close
succession of second violin, then viola, then first
violin. The result is that the rhythm overlaps between
the viola and cello playing long notes on the main beats and
the violins playing in syncopation halfway off the main
beat. All play the “heaving” figures, the violins in
octaves. The key is now unabashedly major.
Suddenly, the volume dies down, the first violin drops out,
and the viola pulsates in double stops off the beat, leaving
the cello and second violin stalled, the former leaping (with
a brief minor inflection), the latter murmuring on the
1:55 [m. 63]--Closing material (E-flat major).
The first violin enters on the upbeat with a gentle line
marked dolce and utilizing the chromatic note
A-natural. The other instruments all continue the
figuration they have just established, and they are all quite
static, with slow harmonic motion. After two broad
downward-arching phrases, the first violin winds its way
upward in faster notes. Strong syncopation is
introduced, with notes held over beats, and there are more
2:04 [m. 67]--The accompanying instruments finally
break their continuous motion with two detached chords as the
first violin plunges down in an arpeggio from its high
point. The other instruments briefly break, and the
first violin is left alone as it works its way back up.
It then again arches down and back up, but from a lower high
point and incorporating minor-key inflections. The other
instruments play the gently punctuating chords (the second
violin entering earlier), then drop out. Having reached
a third (lower) high point, the first violin breaks into
widely arching figures before arriving on a conclusive scale
descent to E-flat. The other instruments provide a
backdrop of sustained, slow-moving harmonies.
2:23 [m. 75]--The first violin drops out after its
arrival, but at that point, the cello suddenly plays the
unmistakable opening gesture of Theme 1, including its
distinctive downward leap. This entry attempts to assert
E-flat minor, but it cuts off under the harmony in second
violin and viola. The cello then plucks out two thumps
on the “dominant” note of B-flat as the first violin,
attempting to resist, again plays its conclusive descent in
major. The pattern is repeated, with the cello again
making the entry on Theme 1.
2:34 [m. 80, first ending]--The three-measure first
ending (mm. 80a-82a) is extremely elegant in its motion back
to the home key of C minor for the exposition repeat.
The downward leap of the cello’s Theme 1 entry is subtly
expanded to a full octave, and G-flat is re-spelled as
F-sharp. This, along with a new and flexible “diminished
seventh” harmony, allows the cello to slide up to G for its
plucked notes. G is the “dominant” of C minor. The
first violin plays its conclusive descent, but it is changed
from major to minor and moved down a third to arrive on C, an
arrival that coincides exactly with the return of the opening.
2:42 [m. 1]--Theme 1 opening with rising scales,
downward leaps, and powerful crescendo.
2:52 [m. 7]--Hammering chords, held viola octave, and
quieter chords, as at 0:14.
3:01 [m. 11]--Expressive new idea in F minor, as at
3:08 [m. 15]--Continuation in C minor, then gradual
trailing off to isolated F-sharp, as at 0:30.
3:22 [m. 22]--Transition. Theme 1 in low
instruments with feverish, hammering violins, as at 0:43.
3:31 [m. 27]--Inversion of Theme 1 and motion to E-flat
minor, as at 0:52.
3:41 [m. 33]--Theme 2 in E-flat minor. Agitated
violin lines above arching viola figures, as at 1:02.
3:56 [m. 41]--Figures passed between instruments in
motion toward A-flat minor, as at 1:17.
4:03 [m. 45]--Agitated harmonies moving to A major as
first violin stalls on half-step, as at 1:24.
4:16 [m. 53]--Lurching shift to E-flat major, then
sighing, heaving figures, as at 1:38.
4:23 [m. 57]--Forceful arpeggios, overlapping “heaving”
figures, and diminishing volume, as at 1:44.
4:33 [m. 63]--Closing material in E-flat major.
Gentle first violin line that winds upward, as at 1:55.
4:42 [m. 67]--Widely arching, lightly accompanied first
violin line and descent to E-flat, as at 2:04.
5:01 [m. 75]--Twofold Theme 1 entry in cello,
alternating with first violin descent to E-flat, as at 2:23.
5:13 [m. 80, second ending]--Although the cello’s
downward octave leap on F-sharp is retained, the second ending
diverges immediately after that. The cello slides down
to F rather than up to G, and does not pluck notes, rather
repeats its octave gesture. Meanwhile, the first violin,
instead of playing a descent starting on G, now ascends up a
scale and beyond, beginning on A. The notes of this
scale are long, some held over bar lines, and the underlying
harmonies, especially the cello playing an slow descending
arpeggio that obscures the 3/2 meter, confirm a motion to A
minor, the first key of the development section.
5:22 [m. 84]--Hushed and mysterious, the two violins
begin a tremolo while the cello provides a solid
bass. Against this, the viola plays the main rising
Theme 1 gesture in A minor. With the dissonant leap as a
harmonic bridge, the viola repeats the gesture a half-step
higher, on B-flat major. After this, the pattern is
repeated, but now taken by the first violin (the viola taking
over the tremolo with the second violin). This
time, a statement from the cello (on F) bridges the two violin
statements on A minor and B-flat. At the same time, the
volume begins to build. The cello again overlaps at the
end of the pattern, this time leading over the continuing crescendo
to an emphatic, full cadence in A minor.
5:37 [m. 92]--At the cadence, a forceful three-note
figure derived from the theme is passed between the viola and
the two violins. Rising gestures alternate with falling
ones, the latter played in harmony by two instruments.
The cello leaves its bass foundation to add its own falling
gestures before the instruments come together in a suggestion
of C major.
5:44 [m. 96]--In a sudden juxtaposition, Theme 2
unexpectedly enters at a hushed level. It begins in F
minor, and is then quickly inflected to F major. The
material is all familiar, but the plucked cello is new.
The syncopated figures with repeated notes serve to shift the
music harmonically again, moving toward E minor.
5:51 [m. 100]--Both patterns from 5:37 [m. 92] and 5:44
[m. 96] are repeated in a sequence. The forceful
three-note figures are played beginning in E minor and, after
having been passed around, come together in a suggestion of G
major. Then the Theme 2 segment begins in C minor/major
(following the analogous pattern), moving toward B minor at
the syncopated figures with repeated notes.
6:06 [m. 108]--With the arrival on B minor, a new
pattern begins. The viola continues with the arching,
largely broken octave accompaniment to Theme 2. The
cello plays a variant of the main Theme 1 line against
it. The rhythm is the same, but it ranges much more
widely, outlining the B-minor chord in first inversion.
As it concludes with the downward leap, the violins enter with
the syncopated, repeated-note figures from Theme 2, harmonized
in thirds. This entire sequence is repeated a step
higher, in C minor.
6:13 [m. 112]--The key signature changes to four
sharps, and the music arrives in C-sharp minor. The
cello again plays a version of Theme 1, this time closer to
the original, the viola continuing its angry arching
lines. Now the violins imitate the Theme 1 gesture in a
harmonized version. They then continue with the
syncopated, repeated-note figures as the cello plays yet
another statement of the rising Theme 1 gesture. The
harmony vacillates from C-sharp minor to A major, then back
again as the second violin alone now imitates the cello
line. Above it, the first violin continues the
syncopated, repeated-note figures. This last pattern,
with the second violin imitating the cello, is repeated with
the first violin an octave lower.
6:24 [m. 118]--The viola finally abandons its constant,
insistent arching accompaniment. It joins the cello,
initially in octaves, on fragments of the Theme 1 line.
Meanwhile, the violins, in harmony, play a fragmented version
of the now ubiquitous and hammering repeated-note figures from
Theme 2. The cello and viola break into harmony, leading
to an apparent cadence in C-sharp minor. This, however,
is interrupted by a repetition of the pattern with the parts
reversed, violins on the Theme 1 fragments with cello and
viola on the repeated-note figures. But the violins do
not break into harmony, instead continuing upward in unison
octaves, ratcheting up the tension as the first violin reaches
6:36 [m. 125]--At this climax, the repeated-note
figures take over in all instruments, and their syncopated
character returns. The violins alternate with the viola
and cello. The latter play in very dissonant, clashing
harmonies while the violins lean heavily toward an arrival on
A. The second violin adds a persistent B below its
figures as a double-stop, almost a “pedal point.” After
two measures, the figures are reduced to simple long-short
dotted rhythms, with the viola and cello plunging downward.
6:44 [m. 129]--The arrival point is almost joyous, and
while the harmony is the anticipated A major, it is never
fully confirmed in the bass. All four instruments almost
frantically pass the cascading gestures to each other, from
high to low. For three measures, A major is maintained
(without a complete arrival), but the fourth veers back to
6:51 [m. 133]--Re-transition. It is both abrupt
and brief. The music suddenly becomes quiet after the
huge climax. In the cello and viola, C-sharp slides down
to C, which (as B-sharp) had functioned as a leading note in
C-sharp minor. Now, with the key signature changed back
to the three flats of C minor, it suddenly becomes the
keynote. The viola begins to hammer on that C while the
cello plays an arpeggio in the rhythm of Theme 1. The
violins, harmonized in thirds, play the first three notes of
Theme 1 itself. The measure is repeated once, then
again, with the note values doubled and stretched to two
measures. The last third is held into the next measure,
which contains the disguised and subtle arrival of the
6:58 [m. 137]--Theme 1. Out of the note held over
the measure, the theme emerges in its original rhythmic
form. While lacking its assertive onset, it proceeds
with steadily increasing strength, and with more doubling in
the second violin than before. A new element is a more
active bass in the cello, which is lower and moves downward
with more purpose, still played in tremolo. By
the third measure, this cello descent is quite
chromatic. The viola in double stops ends up taking the
previous harmonies. As the theme reaches the series of
powerful, continuous ascents, the cello, abandoning the tremolo,
adds a new, assertive descending arpeggio.
7:09 [m. 143]--At the point analogous to 0:14 and 2:52
[m. 7], the first pair of hammering chords and the following
held viola octave essentially matches its model. Its
quiet sequel, however, is subtly shifted so that the chords at
first remain on G and only descend to F-sharp instead of
F. There the second viola octave is held. Then, a
surprising third pair of chords is added, this time a near
shadow, with all instruments plucked except the viola.
These plucked chords descend such that the top violin note
moves down through E to D, but the harmony ends up on B
minor. The viola now holds a single held D through the
7:21 [m. 149]--Two more measures are appended to the
already extended chord/octave passage. The viola is
still the only instrument bowed, and it makes a smooth
descent, at first chromatic, as the other instruments play
plucked notes around it. The cello plays an ascending
pattern on the beats while the violins, in harmony, follow
with an arch on the off-beats. The harmony suggests D
7:25 [m. 151]--The passage from 0:22 and 3:01 [m. 11]
follows, taking on more of a “transition” character by being
set in a different key than in the exposition. The first
expressive phrase is set a step higher, in G, but it is a
curious mixture of G major and minor. The second violin
and viola play their Theme 1 fragments together, rather than
in succession, and the more active cello arches up and back
down. The second phrase begins the same way, but by its
second measure, it effortlessly arrives at the same motion to
C major as heard in the exposition. Approached from G
instead of F, however, the arrival is more decisive.
7:33 [m. 155]--The passage beginning with a shift to C
minor is analogous to 0:30 and 3:08 [m. 15], and even
virtually identical to it for three measures, the only
difference being a more florid viola line in the second
measure. But in the fourth measure, where there had
previously been a motion to G at the end of the second phrase,
Brahms instead diverts to F. Thus, the approach to C and
the departure from it are an exact reversal from the
exposition. The scoring is also changed, with the cello
dropping to a low C and holding it, the first violin and viola
taking over the Theme 1 fragments. The three-bar
diversion follows as expected, but with the cello holding the
low C, it is less active. The cello does rise from the
low note before the pause and isolated note, which is now a
low E, a step lower than the previous F-sharp.
7:47 [m. 162]--Transition. Analogous to 0:43 and
3:22 [m. 22]. The quiet three-note descent is stated
twice, extending the passage by a measure. The first
one, in first violin and viola, is surprisingly at the same
pitch level as the one in the exposition, but the middle note
is altered to avoid a strong arrival. The second
statement, in second violin and cello, rearranges the
intervals and arrives on F, so there is no tonal motion.
Against the second statement, the first violin emerges
strongly from a held note into the upbeat to the following
upward charge, which is in F minor. The cello and viola
follow the pattern from the exposition, but the “hammering”
first violin octaves add a new, dynamic downward motion.
7:57 [m. 168]--The passage from 0:52 and 3:31 [m. 27]
follows its exposition presentation, transposed to F
minor. The viola and cello octaves continue as
expected. The violin octaves and harmonies are adjusted,
with the first violin now static on an octave D-flat. An
extremely subtle change has great consequence when the violins
take over the dotted-rhythm octaves. Corresponding to
the exposition, the harmony would be A-flat minor, but it is
changed to A-flat major. The cello, instead of holding
long notes, joins the viola on the pulsations. The
hammering chords are also subtly altered. The
A-flat-major harmony, coupled with re-positioning of the cello
leaps, facilitates a motion back home to C minor. The
viola octaves begin, heralding the arrival of Theme 2 in the
8:08 [m. 174]--Theme 2 in C minor. It corresponds
closely to 1:02 and 3:41 [m. 33], but adds a plaintive cello
line in the first two measures, its smooth motion somewhat
offsetting the off-beat violin interjections. From the
third measure, where the cello previously entered, the
transposition is quite literal.
8:22 [m. 182]--Closely analogous to 1:17 and 3:56 [m.
41]. Motion to F minor recalls the transition.
8:29 [m. 186]--Corresponds to 1:24 and 4:03 [m.
45]. The agitated harmonies, now in E-flat minor, create
a neat connection to the exposition, where the theme began in
that key. The major key that follows is notated as
G-flat/F-sharp major (presented as both in succession).
After the huge crescendo, the first violin stalls on a
half-step, as expected, now F (notated as E-sharp) and
8:43 [m. 194]--Analogous to 1:38 and 4:16 [m.
53]. The “lurching” shift is to the “dominant” of C
major. The sighing, heaving figures follow as before.
8:49 [m. 198]--Continuation with forceful arpeggios and
overlapping “heaving” figures, analogous to 1:44 and 4:23 [m.
57]. The second violin and viola reverse roles from the
exposition in this whole passage. There is also some
shifting and displacing of the original register, but the
overall correspondence is still very close.
9:00 [m. 204]--Closing material in C major,
corresponding to 1:55 and 4:33 [m. 63]. The first violin
line is directly transposed. The second violin and viola
continue to reverse roles from the exposition. The cello
leaps up midway through the passage because a direct
transposition would reach below its range.
9:09 [m. 208]--Widely arching first violin line,
corresponding to 2:04 and 4:47 [m. 67]. Here, again
because of a direct transposition reaching lower than the
violin’s range, there is an alteration and an octave shift in
the middle, with the first violin beginning lower than the
exposition, but finishing higher. The result is that the
third high point is higher, not lower, than the second, and on
the same level as the first. The lower three instruments
again provide sustained, slow-moving harmonies. The
conclusive descent is to a C, but because of the previous
register shift, it is higher than the exposition’s E-flat.
9:28 [m. 216]--Two Theme 1 entries in the cello,
interrupted by repetition of first violin descent to C, almost
exactly analogous to the end of the exposition at 2:23 and
5:01 [m. 75].
9:40 [m. 221]--Here, Brahms’s extremely careful
planning is masterful, but almost concealed. These three
measures correspond to the first ending at 2:34 [m.
80]. But now Brahms is already at home in C. So he
does not expand the cello leap to an octave, instead retaining
its first leap to the note F-sharp, the goal of the altered
leap in the first ending! The plucked cello notes have
already been on G. After this, the music can proceed as
in the first ending, with the change from major to minor in
the first violin descent. This passage shows that the
exposition repeat in this movement should not be omitted under
any circumstance, as the first ending’s absence would lessen
the impact of this moment at the end of the recapitulation.
9:47 [m. 224]--At the arrival point, Brahms changes the
time signature from 3/2 to cut time or 2/2. The effect
of this is to create a rushed feeling without really speeding
up, although he does indicate agitato along with crescendo.
The first material is a compressed version of Theme 2, with
off-beat entries and then agitated rising figures. A
four-measure unit is heard twice, the second time with the
lead first violin an octave higher. In the first
statement, the cello plays broken octaves on C. These
are passed to the viola for the second statement.
9:56 [m. 232]--The first violin marks an arrival with a
downward octave leap. At the same time, the second
violin begins a double-stop tremolo while the cello
and viola shoot upward in a clear derivation of Theme 1, now
in major. The rocketing upward motion is then passed to
the violins,also in major, the viola taking the tremolo,
and the cello moving downward. The pattern repeats at a
higher level, with the forceful upward motion passed back to
viola and cello, then again to the violins, with similar
exchange of parts and the cello culminating in a descending
octave. Things are now extremely agitated and intense.
10:01 [m. 236]--At this point, the first violin is
extremely high, and, back in minor, it plays a wailing line
reaching to a D-flat on the fifth ledger line above the
staff. This is a climactic moment. Against it,
both the second violin and viola now have the tremolo,
and the cello plays the forceful upward lines from Theme
1. After this, the first violin plays the distinctive
downward leaps from Theme 1 while the cello takes the wailing
line, leaping up to do so. The pattern is repeated, this
time with the first violin an octave lower. In the
repetition, the cello is at the same bass level for the
forceful lines, but an octave lower for the wailing
line. The repetition an octave lower begins a rapid
10:09 [m. 244]--The second violin and viola emerge into
the agitated repeated notes derived from Theme 2, alternating
with the tremolo. The cello again plays the
forceful upward gestures from Theme 1, again in major, and
using its lowest C. The first violin now plays feverish
accented chords, also in major, on the weak beats, assisted by
second violin and viola, who accent the beginnings of their
repeated-note figures. The third of these chords is on a
striking “Neapolitan” D-flat chord, from which it takes over
the ascending Theme 1 figure from the cello. The entire
sequence is then repeated.
10:18 [m. 252]--Now things settle completely down in an
extended diminuendo. The major key is firmly
established. The cello plays one more upward gesture in
the main rhythm, then slows to a gentle triplet rhythm for the
next one. The first violin chords settle on C major,
while the second violin and viola slow their tremolo
down to the same triplet rhythm. The cello retains this,
with rocking figures emphasizing the low C. The first
violin chords thin to an octave and a sixth, moving down,
while the inner instruments and cello slow down even more to a
straight rhythm. The cello and first violin now both
play on weak beats, holding notes over bar lines. The
intense, dramatic movement closes on a transfigured C-major
10:44--END OF MOVEMENT [260 mm.]
2nd Movement: Romanze – Poco Adagio (Ternary
form--ABA’ with coda). A-FLAT MAJOR, 3/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--The second violin, viola, and cello
introduce the gentle, richly harmonized upward gesture in
long-short (dotted) rhythm that permeates the movement.
The first violin enters at the end of the first measure,
responding with an expressive melody, also in the long-short
rhythm. The other instruments change the harmony on two
successive statements of the upward gesture under the first
violin melody. Things stall on the fourth measure, with
the introduction of chromatic notes. The second violin
becomes independent here, and introduces the dissonant note
C-flat. A strongly reiterated D-natural in the first
violin helps move the key to E-flat major, where the
six-measure phrase ends with a syncopated cadence.
0:26 [m. 7]--A D-flat in the second violin moves the
key back to A-flat, where the phrase is repeated in a new
scoring. The first violin joins the harmonized upward
gesture, which is consequently moved higher as a whole, and
the cello takes the melody. The closing measures with
the E-flat cadence are a bit less active. The second
violin again becomes independent, but its line is an octave
higher. It again brings back D-flat to lead into the
0:51 [m. 13]--The next phrase introduces a change, with
a direct shift to C major and the marking dolce.
The second violin and viola play the upward gesture, and the
first violin soars above in long notes. The cello is
absent for two measures. When it re-enters, the key
immediately shifts back home to A-flat and the volume reaches
its quietest level. The first violin twice descends in a
syncopated rhythm. At the end of the phrase, again six
measures, the dotted rhythm and upward gesture break.
The first violin, with colorful chromatic inflections, leads
the other instruments smoothly into the last phrase of the
main A section.
1:17 [m. 19]--The instruments now come together in
full, warm harmony. Throughout the A section,
the dynamic level has swelled and receded, but now there is a
real buildup. The first violin appropriates the upward
gesture in a yearning melodic line. After two upward
swings, the melodic line, in syncopation, sinks down to an
apparent cadence, but this is abruptly cut off right at the
1:30 [m. 22]--The second half of the phrase is a varied
repetition of the first three bars. The cello initially
takes the yearning melodic line (with the viola covering its
previous chromatically-tinged harmony), but on the second
upward swing, it is joined an octave above by the first
violin. The same sinking, interrupted cadence follows,
with the first violin an octave higher and the lower harmonies
slightly altered. Brahms indicates that the previous
buildup should quickly recede.
1:42 [m. 25]--In a very brief two-bar transition, the
viola, then the second violin, and finally the cello begin
pulsing quietly on the triplet rhythm that dominates the B
section. They harmonize closely. In the second
measure, they move downward, and the first violin enters in
“straight” rhythm with an echo of the two interrupted
B Section--A-flat minor
1:51 [m. 27]--In block harmonies, the instruments play
sighing, dolce halting figures in triplet rhythm
beginning off the beat. After the first gesture, they
become shorter. Following the first set, the second
begins on an unexpected harmony, B major, but it is such a
subtle shift that the first violin is able to stay on the same
pitches (notated differently) until about halfway through this
second set of figures.
2:04 [m. 31]--Now the first violin breaks free with a
soaring line, still beginning off the beat, but rising above
the other instruments, who pulsate on chords. The phrase
begins in B major. The first violin swells to a high
point, then moves to a straight rhythm for its descent,
clashing with the pulsing chords. On this descent, it
moves away from B major. The volume quickly recedes, and
the first violin continues its descent, alternating between
syncopated triplet rhythm and straight rhythm. The
descent finally reaches a full cadence on E-flat minor.
Brahms makes much use of “enharmonic” relationships, where
notating pitches in different ways can make key relationships
seem more distant than they are.
2:20 [m. 35]--The sequence of dolce halting
figures begins again. The first set, which is again in
A-flat minor, begins the same in the first violin, but the
other instruments are on different pitches, most notably the
cello, which is on a low E-flat. The opening harmony is
the “dominant” on that E-flat. The first violin pitches
remain as before until the very end, where they reach
lower. In the second set of figures, the cello slides up
to E, and the other instruments reach higher. The set is
a wholesale transposition of the previous figures in B major
up to E major.
2:33 [m. 39]--With the transposition to E major, the
soaring melody from 2:04 [m. 31] is primed for an arrival back
home on A-flat (instead of the previous E-flat). But in
a twist, the soaring melody is played by the cello instead of
the first violin, at least for its first sweeping arch.
The first violin joins the other instruments in the pulsating
chords. With the continuing descent and the alternation
between syncopated triplet rhythm and straight rhythm, the
melody moves back to the first violin and reaches the expected
cadence in A-flat minor.
2:48 [m. 43]--Re-transition. After the cadence,
the cello continues with its off-beat pulsations, moving
steadily upward. Against this, the first violin and
viola, in harmony, bring back the familiar upward gesture in
dotted rhythm from the main section. Briefly turning to
E major, the instruments continue upward, now joined by the
second violin, and return to A-flat (with a deft respelling of
G-sharp as A-flat). A third sequence continues to move
up and builds in volume, briefly touching on C minor. At
the top, the first violin stalls while the second violin and
viola ease back downward and recede. The pulsing
off-beat cello drops down to a low E-flat and is now
plucked. All of this melts into the return of the main
3:12 [m. 49]--While the outlines of the first phrase
are maintained, it is greatly varied through the introduction
of a triplet rhythm. Most recognizable is the initial
gesture in the lower three instruments, but already above it,
the first violin begins its decorations in the triplet rhythm,
distinctively holding notes over the beats. This triplet
rhythm continues in a highly embellished version of the
original first violin melody. It slowly infects the
second violin and viola as well, the cello alone resisting
it. The harmonic structure of the phrase is maintained,
most clearly in the cello line, and the decorative first
violin line marks the expected arrival on E-flat with an
upward arpeggio in a faster sixteenth-note rhythm.
3:34 [m. 55]--The second phrase is both more florid and
higher than the first. The first violin soars in broad
sixteenth-note patterns with distinctive octave leaps both up
and down. As with the previous statement in triplets, it
holds notes over beats. The other instruments again
begin with the familiar gesture, but they also devolve into
the sixteenth-note patterns. The cello takes over the
familiar melody, as it did before in the second phrase.
In the fourth measure, with the first violin reaching very
high levels, the triplet rhythm works its way back into the
texture, clashing with the sixteenth-note patterns. The
viola moves below the cello, providing a bass for its
melody. The phrase again ends with a first violin
3:59 [m. 61]--While the phrase corresponds to 0:51 [m.
13], only the most basic harmonic structure is similar.
With the first violin reaching the top of its arpeggio, the
key makes the expected shift to C major. The dotted
rhythm, however, disappears, and the arpeggio introduced by
the first violin is passed between the upper three
instruments. The cello provides a foundation with steady
plucked notes. After the first three measures and the
motion back to A-flat, the triplet rhythm returns in the first
violin as it plunges downward. At the same time, the
other instruments slow down and the cello, taking the bow,
provides a bass line resembling the end of the original
4:22 [m. 67]--Finally, the music takes on the firmly
recognizable outline of the climactic final phrase of the main
A section, corresponding closely to 1:17 [m. 19].
But it is not an exact repetition, as the triplet rhythm
continues its presence, initially in the cello and viola for
the first two upward swings before the interrupted cadence.
4:35 [m. 70]--Corresponding to 1:30 [m. 22], the
repetition with the melody in the cello follows as expected,
the now pervasive triplet rhythm moving to the again soaring
first violin. The expected sinking, interrupted cadence
arrives, hinting at a return of the B section
4:47 [m. 73]--As before, a two-bar transition follows,
but the pulsing rhythm is replaced by pizzicato chords
in the two violins and cello. These are heard on the
first two beats of each bar. The echo of the interrupted
cadence is now in the viola, and it already begins in the
first bar. It then extends further downward in the
second bar, implying a motion toward D-flat instead of A-flat.
4:56 [m. 75]--The coda begins with the sighing, halting
figures from the B section. After initially
suggesting a harmony on D-flat, they they turn surprisingly
upward, making a striking motion toward the distant key of E
major. Once there, the shorter two-note figures are
heard. In the third measure, the first violin presents
an entirely new idea, a yearning melody in E. This
melody is in “straight” rhythm, clashing with the persistent
triplets of the lower instruments, which move steadily
upward. When the melody turns back down, so too do the
second violin and viola, but the cello continues to move up.
5:11 [m. 79]--The first violin breaks off briefly, but
the other instruments continue the steady triplet
motion. The sequence begins a step higher, with the
halting figures initially suggesting E-flat, then turning to
G-flat, where the yearning first violin melody in straight
rhythm begins again. But this time, the other
instruments do not move upward, and the melody is diverted in
its second measure, essentially stalling on a note held over
the bar line. The other three instruments now begin a
downward motion, extending the phrase, as the first violin
also swings its way down, moving back home toward A-flat
5:30 [m. 84]--In a two-bar transition, all instruments
move to straight rhythm. The first violin begins a
descent that becomes fully chromatic after the first two
notes. The other instruments settle on off-beat
punctuating chords as the volume diminishes approaching the
5:38 [m. 86]--Now the top three instruments begin an
incredibly warm reminiscence of the beautiful closing phrase
from the main A section melody. The melody is
divided between the two violins, who exchange positions.
An expressive octave leap in the first violin, followed by a
downward swing, is punctuated by three plucked cello
arpeggios. The sequence begins again, moved up a fourth,
but after the octave leap, the first violin reaches even
higher against the returning cello arpeggios.
5:56 [m. 90]--Unexpectedly, the violins suddenly drop
out. The viola and cello, the latter now bowed and in
double stops, take up the main melodic gesture, making a
surprising harmonic diversion, again to the distant key of E
major. This detour is striking at such a late
point. The violins immediately respond, still in E, but
Brahms re-spells it as F-flat to help facilitate a quick
motion back home. With a surge, A-flat major makes its
final conquest as the first violin reaches its top note and
begins a beautiful descent in triplet rhythm. This
descent is in two waves separated by an upward leap. The
second violin accompanies in clashing straight rhythm, the
viola echoes the opening gesture, and the cello plays pairs of
6:13 [m. 94]--The movement closes with gentle sighing
gestures in the violins, a last reminiscence of the opening
gesture in the viola, and more warm plucked cello
chords. The final chord is off the beat, with the
violins now plucked and the cello bowed. The third of
the chord, C, is on top, creating a suspended effect.
6:36--END OF MOVEMENT [96 mm.]
3rd Movement: Allegretto molto moderato e comodo;
[Trio] Un poco più animato (Intermezzo and Trio). F
MINOR, 4/8 and 3/4 time.
[INTERMEZZO] (F minor, 4/8 time)
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1. Beginning on an upbeat, the
first violin plays a descending chain of two-note suspensions,
semplice. The F-minor key is confirmed by the
opening D-flat, but the melody and underlying harmony have a
strong pull toward C minor from the outset. The first
violin figures leap back up each measure, reaching higher for
the third gesture. Meanwhile, the viola has a plaintive
counterpoint with heavy syncopation. The second violin
and cello provide a steady pulse, bass line, and
harmony. The first half of the phrase moves strongly
toward E-flat major. The second half begins the same
way, but the third gesture avoids the large leap, becomes more
strongly chromatic, and settles to a full cadence in C minor.
0:18 [m. 9]--After the cadence, an upbeat immediately
moves back to F minor for the contrasting phrase. The
first violin and viola are now in unison, as are the second
violin and cello. The latter pair keeps the two-note
figures moving, while the first violin and viola hold long
notes before joining the others on upbeats. After the
first two measures, the instruments move gradually upward and
the minor-key harmonies move through A-flat and B-flat on
their way back to C. The volume swells and
recedes. During the descent to the cadence, the second
violin and cello split into harmony, and then the first violin
and viola abandon their unison as well, the latter joining the
0:31 [m. 15]--At this second cadence, the cello starts
to pulse on a low C. The second violin and viola, in
unison, slide downward chromatically. The first violin
has a new and passionate melody that starts high and winds its
way downward. It culminates in an arch figure that is
imitated by second violin and viola as the cello pulsation
slides upward. After another descent in first violin and
cello, the former leaps back up. The pattern is
repeated, but now with the first violin on the descending
chromatic notes, and the second violin and viola taking the
passionate melody. An extra imitation of the arch is
added, and then the instruments descend to a third C-minor
cadence, complete with reiterations in the cello.
0:52 [m. 25, first ending]--The two-measure first
ending begins with a first violin arpeggio in C minor over
another cello reiteration. But the second violin,
followed by the viola, introduces the note D-flat to make a
transition back to F minor for the repeat. Their
entries, along with syncopated leaps in the first violin,
merge smoothly into the opening upbeat.
0:55 [m. 1]--Part 1 repeated. First phrase in two
halves, settling to first C-minor cadence.
1:12 [m. 9]--Contrasting phrase with pairs of
instruments in unison, as at 0:18.
1:25 [m. 15]--Passionate new melody against chromatic
descents, as at 0:31.
1:46 [m. 25, second ending]--Part 2. The first
violin plays the same arpeggio as in the first ending, but now
the second violin and viola responses also remain in C
minor. The upper three instruments break into syncopated
pulsations as the cello enters, also with heavy syncopation,
using the plaintive counterpoint heard from the viola at the
beginning. Suddenly, the harmonies change, and both the
syncopated pulsations and the cello melody shift down a
half-step to B minor. The pattern is repeated with the
melody in the first violin and the pulsations in second violin
double stops and viola (the cello briefly pausing). It
seems as if this passage will make another shift down to
B-flat as the cello re-enters, but the arrival is averted.
2:07 [m. 35]--The cello prominently begins the melody
again, this time in its low register. The expected
arrival on B-flat is diverted toward E-flat minor. Over
two measures, the cello reiterates the melody in the low
register, now sounding ominous, as the violins and viola
decorate with pulsations. Suddenly, almost without
warning, all four instruments break into an upward unison
scale passage in triplet rhythm with repeated notes and a crescendo.
All except the first violin sharply cut off on the top
note. The first violin holds it.
2:13 [m. 38]--The held violin note leads into a smooth
passage marked dolce and lusingando. The
viola enters against the note and then leads the first violin
in a passage of canon (imitation) at a fifth
above. This canon is rather static, and heavily features
a long note tied to the first note of a triplet. The
syncopation of the triplets betrays a relationship to the
original viola melody. The motion of the triplet figures
alternates between ascending and descending. Meanwhile,
the cello and second violin similarly alternate in plucked
leaps against the canon. The cello always leaps down a
fifth, while the second violin intersperses an upward
leap. The whole passage is in heavily flat major keys,
moving through G-flat and C-flat.
2:21 [m. 42]--The canon stalls for a measure, although
the first violin and viola still alternate, the former
descending, the latter ascending. In the next measure,
the two instruments seamlessly come together, harmonized in
beautiful triplet sixths, and they play a sweeping,
downward-arching line in pure D-flat major. At the same
time, the second violin and cello break from their plucked
notes. As the first violin and viola reach the upward
end of their sweep, the viola shoots farther upward,
harmonizing at the end in a third instead of a sixth.
The first violin holds its note, and the second violin enters
with an echoing figure. Both violins hold notes over the
2:30 [m. 46]--The second violin slides down in mild
syncopation, and another smooth passage similar to that at
2:13 [m. 38] ensues. This time, the canon is between the
first and second violins, with the first violin leading.
The pattern follows as expected, but the relationships between
individual notes are different. This time, the
downward-sliding second violin leads the harmony a half-step
down, to C major. The cello and viola now have the
plucked leaps, mostly in fifths, although the first cello leap
is an octave. The key relationships are similar, but
ordered somewhat differently, with C moving through F and
2:40 [m. 50]--As at 2:21 [m. 42], the canon stalls for
a measure, but unlike the previous passage, the plucked notes,
now in the cello and viola, become more active, and they
decisively shift the key back to F. The harmonized
downward-arching triplet line is played in F major. The
violins subtly shift their harmonies between sixths and thirds
over the course of the arch, eventually reaching the same
upward end of the sweep. The cello and viola respond in
a similar way to the second violin before, but in
2:48 [m. 54]--The passage is extended by two measures
as the responding figure is passed to the violins and back to
the cello/viola pair, which then holds repeated, mildly
syncopated notes over the bar line. The second violin
pointedly enters as the cello slides down, moving the music to
F minor for the varied reprise of Part 1.
2:54 [m. 56]--Varied reprise of Part 1. For all
but the last two measures, the violins and cello reprise the
opening two-part phrase unchanged. The viola, however,
replaces its original plaintive counterpoint with the related
smooth phrase in triplets used for the canons in Part 2.
These are prominent in the first two gestures of each half,
with the third gesture reverting closer to the original
line. At the end of the phrase, in the last two
measures, there is an extremely artful change to the pattern
as the first violin reaches almost imperceptibly farther
downward where it had previously become chromatic. The
other instruments are adjusted. The result is that the
motion to C minor is avoided and the full cadence stays home
in F minor.
3:11 [m. 64]--The end of the phrase is reiterated an
octave higher, as if to confirm the F-minor cadence. It
is then repeated a third time yet another octave above, but
the cadence is now lengthened, and the other instruments
gently follow the first violin with a confirming
gesture. The viola seems to start another reiteration at
the original octave. The entire contrasting phrase from
0:18 and 1:12 [m. 9] is replaced by these short reiterations.
3:17 [m. 66]--The passionate melody from 0:31 and 1:25
[m. 15] is now given in F minor. The pulsing cello (now
on F) is slightly delayed, beginning off the beat. The
violins also start off the beat, leaving the viola exposed on
its apparent reiteration of the cadence. The pulsing
cello interrupts this, and the viola, along with the second
violin, moves into its chromatic downward slide. The
remainder of the passage follows as before in the higher
F-minor key, with only minor adjustments.
3:38 [m. 76]--Surprisingly, the first ending is given
as at 0:52 [m. 25a] in a direct transposition. The first
violin arpeggio is followed by the second violin and viola, as
in that first ending. It merges right into the opening
theme, which, following the pattern, is briefly transposed to
B-flat minor. However, as the original theme had a
strong pull to C minor, so is the pull to F minor strong
here. The opening gesture with the viola counterpoint
now avoids a repetition and works quickly downward to a full
arrival in the home key. This entire modification of the
opening gesture is repeated in the cello (the viola still has
the counterpoint). Interjections from the violins
(previously heard in second violin and cello) now add a level
3:50 [m. 82]--The cello repeats the end of the descent
an octave higher. The violin notes do not move up, but
the viola counterpoint does. Then the second violin
echoes this repetition up another octave, but modifies it,
adding jumps and ending on the note B-flat. This time
the viola stays put, the cello drops out, and the first violin
moves its punctuation up to the high octave. Finally,
the cello repeats the second violin modification, but adds a
final leap down to low F. The viola counterpoint also
works down to the instrument’s low C. The punctuating
violin notes become more isolated before the final arrival on
F. As the cello holds the note, the other instruments
pluck a gentle F major chord to end the main
TRIO (Un poco più animato, F major, 3/4 time)
4:02 [m. 87]--Part 1. The upbeat in the new 3/4
meter is also the last beat of the 4/8 measure (m. 86) at the
end of the main intermezzo. The first violin plays a dolce
melody that leaps widely up and down. Its cheerful,
rustic nature is underpinned by a “buzzing” effect in the
second violin. The same note, A, is continuously played,
alternating between a fingered and an open string. The
viola and cello, meanwhile, provide the bass and harmony as
they pluck on the first and third beats of each bar. The
first phrase remains solidly in F major, but without any firm
4:11 [m. 95]--The second phrase begins with a turn to
the “relative” minor key, D minor, emphasized by a half-step
descent to a long “leading” C-sharp in the first violin and a
break for the plucked viola and cello. After two of
these half-step descents, the pattern is shifted down a step,
and there follow two similar gestures suggesting C
minor. Here, the harmony dictates that the second violin
moves from its “buzzing” A to an oscillating octave on
G. The lower strings take their bows and now hold their
harmonies instead of resting during the long leading notes.
4:19 [m. 103]--A four-measure closing phrase seems to
briefly move back to F before the first violin gently descends
to a full cadence in C, now C major. During this
descent, the second violin oscillation becomes more active,
circling around the note C. The viola and cello continue
to play bowed harmonies in support of the cadence. The
second violin trails after the arrival and leads into the
first ending (m. 106a), which ends with the upbeat to the
4:23 [m. 87]--Part 1 repeated. First phrase with
dolce melody and buzzing A, as at 4:02.
4:31 [m. 95]--Second phrase with motion to D minor and
C minor, as at 4:11.
4:39 [m. 103]--Closing phrase and cadence in C major,
as at 4:19. In the second ending (m. 106b), the second
violin plays the lower two notes of the chord, where it had
previously played the upper two, preparing for the new upbeat
into Part 2.
4:43 [m. 107]--Part 2. The first violin twice
makes an upward leaping gesture, similar in character to the
half-step descents heard before. The oscillation moves
to the viola, now on an octave C. The second violin and
cello respond in pleasant harmonies to the two leaps.
There are then two further such leaps, now reaching higher,
and with harmonies suggesting E minor and G major. The
oscillating viola moves to E. The second of these higher
leaps is extended by two full measures. The first violin
then drops out, and there is a further two measure extension
in which the second violin and cello stretch out their notes,
creating an implied 3/2 measure or “hemiola.” This also
lengthens the upbeat into the next passage.
4:55 [m. 119]--The main theme of the trio section is
played in a highly imaginative re-scoring. First, the
upbeat is extended to two beats because of the preceding
“hemiola.” The second violin again starts its “buzzing”
repeated A. The first six measures of the theme are now
played pizzicato, with the melody divided between
instruments. The first violin and cello play rich chords
on the first and third beats of each measure. The viola
plays the notes on the second beats of each measure. The
first four of these are all on A, made to sound strongly by
plucking the pitch on two strings, one open, one
fingered. In the next two measures, the viola plays
chords, and the new harmonies are on chromatic “diminished”
chords. The volume builds before the theme abruptly
breaks off. The viola joins the “buzzing” in a brief
5:03 [m. 127]--The “buzzing” breaks, and all
instruments are now bowed. At this dramatic high point,
the violins play a new and full-hearted harmonized descending
line. It has colorful chromatic notes, but confirms the home
key of F major. The viola plays a downward winding
accompaniment culminating in broken octaves, and the cello
bass line gradually becomes more active. There are two
statements of the line, with the second statement breaking its
violin harmonies into shorter repeated notes for two
measures. There is a full cadence.
5:12 [m. 135]--The volume suddenly becomes quiet at the
cadence, and the second violin begins its distinctive
“buzzing” one last time. In a charming “codetta,” the
remaining instruments, all plucked, play descending cadence
chords on the downbeats. After one round of these, a
second set is played an octave lower (although the cello bass
remains at the same level), with the texture reduced to single
notes in the first violin. The last cadence is a dolce
broken chord. The second violin buzzes for two more
measures and then, in the briefest of transitions, moves to an
oscillating minor third on F, where the viola joins, moving in
the opposite direction. This leads directly into the
upbeat of the main intermezzo.
ALLEGRETTO [INTERMEZZO] REPRISE
5:23 [m. 1, upbeat from m. 146]--Part 1. First
phrase in two halves, settling to first C-minor cadence, as at
the beginning and 0:55.
5:41 [m. 9]--Contrasting phrase with pairs of
instruments in unison, as at 0:18 and 1:12.
5:53 [m. 15]--Passionate new melody against chromatic
descents, as at 0:31 and 1:25.
6:14 [m. 25, second ending]--Part 2. Arpeggios
breaking into pulsations with syncopated cello melody in C
minor, repeated by first violin in B minor, as at 1:46.
6:35 [m. 35]--Cello melody in low register, moving to
E-flat minor, then upward unison scale in triplets, as at
6:41 [m. 38]--Smooth, syncopated passage in canon and
triplet rhythm, moving through G-flat and C-flat, as at 2:13.
6:50 [m. 42]--Canon stalls, then arching harmonized
triplet line in sixths played in D-flat major, as at 2:21.
6:59 [m. 46]--Second smooth, syncopated passage in
canon and triplet rhythm, beginning in C major, as at 2:30.
7:08 [m. 50]--Canon stalls, then arching harmonized
triplet line in sixths played in F major, as at 2:40.
7:17 [m. 54]--Two-measure extension leading to varied
reprise of Part 1, as at 2:48.
7:23 [m. 56]--Varied reprise of Part 1. Opening
phrase with added triplet rhythm and avoidance of motion to C
minor, as at 2:54.
7:40 [m. 64]--Reiteration and confirmation of cadence,
as at 3:11.
7:46 [m. 66]--Passionate melody played in F minor, as
8:07 [m. 76]--Return of “first ending,” then modified
statement of main theme opening, as at 3:38.
8:19 [m. 82]—Repetitions in cello and second violin,
then closing plucked F-major chord, as at 3:50.
8:34--END OF MOVEMENT [146 (+86) mm.]
4th Movement: Allegro (Sonata-Allegro form with
conflated development and recapitulation). C MINOR, Cut time
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1. The forceful opening
gesture, a rising figure given out in unison spread over three
octaves, is reminiscent of the main theme from the first
movement. But it is terse and almost epigrammatic,
abruptly cutting off with a distinctive descending leap down
to the “leading tone” of B-natural. Following this
dramatic statement, the first violin leads the continuation
with a descending third and feverish upward-shooting
figures. The viola plays these figures continuously, the
second violin answers the first violin with both rising and
falling gestures, and the cello plays a descending bass
line. The first violin rounds off its statement with a
yearning figure, a longer note leaning into a broad descent.
0:08 [m. 7]--The lower instruments abruptly cut off,
and the first violin continues with more agitated figures, now
characterized by downward motion to repeated lower neighbor
notes. These are punctuated by longer notes held over
bar lines. The lower instruments punctuate the upbeats
and downbeats with strong chords. The harmony moves
strikingly to the region of D major/G major followed by a turn
back to the more closely related F minor. The lower
instruments play the rhythm of the main gesture while the
first violin figures become continuous and reach upward.
0:16 [m. 13]--The first violin again arrives at the
opening gesture, but this time the second violin and viola
play a pattern of two-note descents based on the repeated
neighbor-note figures. C minor is re-established, and
the theme continues as at the beginning. After three
bars, however, the first violin breaks from the expected
pattern with more dramatic leaps, accompanied by full chords
(double and triple stops in viola and second violin).
This last gesture that broke the pattern is repeated on higher
notes, with the cello adding a powerful descending line in
triplet rhythm. A full cadence in C minor is approached.
0:27 [m. 21]--While the other three instruments play
isolated harmonized versions of the opening gesture, the first
violin embarks on two huge arching sweeps using the repeated
neighbor-note figure or its directional variants. The
first of these is clearly on the home key of C minor, and the
second is on G, the “dominant” harmony. After this
second sweep, the first violin changes the repeated-note
figure to a downward leaping arch, dwelling on this version
while the other instruments extend the material from the main
gesture. Finally, the first violin leads the viola and
cello in a cascading descent, still using the repeated-note
0:42 [m. 33]--Transition. The cello lands on a
sustained low C. The other instruments play vigorous and
passionate descending lines, with the first violin starting a
distinctive undulating pattern. The second violin and
viola shadow the implied harmonies of the undulating first
violin. The direction sweeps upward and then back down,
the first violin adding wide leaps and the cello becoming
active. The so-called “Neapolitan” harmony on D-flat is
prominent. After four measures, there is another arrival
on C. After this four-bar phrase establishing the
pattern, there are two similar patterns of half the
length. These gradually establish B-flat as the
“dominant” note in E-flat major. This is confirmed with
trailing viola and cello lines.
0:52 [m. 42]--The first violin suddenly enters on an
jagged three-note upbeat leading to an octave leap. The
second violin immediately imitates this an octave lower.
Both instruments then play in the rhythm of the main opening
gesture, the first violin arching down and back up, mainly by
steps. The imitation is not sustained, as the second
violin begins to harmonize the first. Meanwhile, the
viola and cello alternate on the jagged upbeat and following
leap. The harmonized violin line culminates in a
downward leap reminiscent of the main figure. Then
things quickly quiet down as the first violin winds down in a
chromatic line. In the accompaniment, the second violin
and cello incorporate a rising four-note figure.
1:04 [m. 50]--Theme 2 (E-flat major). The lead
role is given to the second violin. After a dolce
yearning upward gesture, it descends, adding a distinctive
turning motion before the resolution. At first, there is
a suggestion of B-flat, but a second statement again confirms
E-flat. The other instruments accompany with isolated
chords, adding distinctive syncopation between
statements. The cello even imitates the turning
motion. The first violin now takes over the theme,
initially doubled an octave below by the viola. The
theme reaches higher and builds. The cello re-introduces
the jagged upbeat figure from the transition, then
unexpectedly takes over the Theme 2 melody. Meanwhile,
the other instruments take up the upbeat figure, the second
violin and viola doubling its length. The volume builds
as the instruments all come together.
1:18 [m. 60]--The violins in harmony once again take up
the descending line in the rhythm of the opening
gesture. The lower instruments continue with the upbeat
figure, which had been associated with this line. The
violins quickly abandon the descent and also join in passing
around the upbeat figure. The key seems to have shifted
from E-flat back to C minor, and this becomes even more
apparent on a second statement of the descending line that is
even more chromatic. Again, the instruments gradually
come together. At the climax, in a highly dramatic and
unexpected move, Brahms brings back the main opening gesture,
with the violins on their original pitches while the viola and
cello continue with the upbeat figure.
1:32 [m. 70]--Closing material. After all
instruments cut off, the cello plays the downward leap,
holding the first note over the bar line. This merges
into a subdued (tranquillo) major-key presentation of
the main theme, begun by the upper three instruments on a long
held note with a biting dissonance between the violins.
The theme obtains a yearning quality as it slides into a
half-close. There is then a brief buildup with
downward-arching figures on the first violin while the other
instruments play longer syncopated harmonies. The first
violin settles down, also slipping into syncopation, but a
full close is avoided.
1:55 [m. 81]--Re-transition. The opening gesture
is used in a passage of great intensification. The first
violin is followed in harmony by the other instruments in a
rising sequence that builds in volume and agitation.
After three rising first violin statements, the sequence
breaks. The first violin and cello now overlap in the
main rhythm, the cello leaping in fourths and fifths.
The second violin and viola provide supporting
harmonies. The buildup becomes even more
powerful. The music seems to move toward a confirmation
of C minor, but with another upward shift in the first violin
and cello, the key of F minor is now strongly implied.
The final gesture making that implication cuts off abruptly
and is repeated.
2:14 [m. 94]--The powerful return of the opening figure
in the first violin at its original pitch level marks the
beginning of the development. Against this, the second
violin and viola play the two-note descents in F minor based
on the repeated neighbor-note figures, as at 0:16 [m.
13]. Instead of moving back to C minor, however, the
continuation moves to A-flat major, the “relative” key of F
minor. The first violin and cello alternate on
descending thirds. The other instruments punctuate in
faster rhythm on similar descending figures. Then things
stall and settle down as the cello dreamily imitates the first
violin in a circular motion that includes the chromatic note
G-flat. A syncopated descent leads to the next harmonic
2:25 [m. 102]--The violins play a powerful three-note
descending arpeggio on the upbeat. This leads to a full
statement of the previous passage at a new harmonic level (a
major third lower). The cello now plays the opening
figure, first suggesting C-sharp minor, then G-sharp
minor. The two violins play the pattern of two-note
descents. The continuation is in E major. In this
continuation, the first violin and cello trade their roles
completely, the latter leading the former. The second
violin and cello play their previous patterns, but in the
“dreamy” passage with circular motion at the end, they become
more active and even introduce their own similar imitation
crossing with that of the first violin and cello. The
close is more active and intense.
2:35 [m. 110]--The development continues with a
harmonically active passage that makes more reference to the
opening and its continuation. The viola and cello play
the opening figure, now in E minor (easily moving there from E
major), as the violins cascade downward with the two-note
figures. The cello then continues with the original
Theme 1 material, still in E minor. The second violin
and viola play similar upward fragments, but the first violin
elaborates on the “yearning” figure that rounds off the
phrase. This material is then used to move to A minor,
where the first violin imitates the cello on the “yearning”
figure. The second violin/viola figures now move
downward, and they settle onto a repeated syncopated third.
2:49 [m. 120]--All instruments come together, gathering
strength. All except the first violin play a long-short
pattern, hovering on A minor. The first violin plays
downward-arching figures derived from 0:08 [m. 7] and
elsewhere. Everything culminates in the upward-shooting
figures from the first violin. The other instruments
join these in harmony, with the viola and cello plunging
downward. This leads to a huge arrival point that marks
the end of the development.
2:54 [m. 124]--Transition, analogous to 0:42 [m.
33]. We now see that the entire short development
section, beginning as it did with the opening gesture and
continuing to work with Theme 1 material, has actually stood
in lieu of Theme 1 itself, thus merging the development and
recapitulation. Starting the transition in A minor
reveals careful planning. By analogy with the
exposition, the “dominant” arrival will be on G, which will of
course lead back to, rather than away from the home key area
of C for the remainder of the movement. The first violin
and cello follow the same pattern as before, but the inner
lines of the second violin and viola are somewhat rearranged
and interchanged throughout.
3:05 [m. 133]--Continuation with jagged upbeats and
octave leaps, analogous to 0:52 [m. 42]. The key of C
major is established. Again, the pattern from the
exposition is closely followed, with the second violin and
viola continuing to occasionally reverse roles.
3:16 [m. 141]--Theme 2 in C major, analogous to 1:04
[m. 50]. Here, adherence to the exposition model is
close. The second violin leads, and the melody is then
taken over by first violin and viola, as before.
3:30 [m. 151]--Dynamic passage with descending lines
and upbeat figures, analogous to 1:19 [m. 60]. The viola
reverses roles with the cello at one point, and the second
violin lines are altered for the sake of register in the new
key. The key appears to move back toward A minor.
The opening gesture makes a dramatic return, as before, with
the viola taking over for the second violin.
3:44 [m. 161]--Closing material, analogous to 1:32 [m.
70], with the cello holdover. The major-key presentation
of the theme is now marked mezza voce, along with dolce
ed espressivo. The biting dissonance is now a
double stop in the viola. Unlike the rest of the
reprise, this passage is set significantly higher.
Halfway through, at the downward-arching lines and
syncopation, there is a highly unexpected and magical turn to
the passage’s original key, E-flat major. This flares up
and quickly subsides, as the descending syncopated lines lead
back to the “dominant” harmony in C. At this point, the
correspondence to the exposition ends with a new re-transition
into the coda.
4:07 [m. 172]--Re-transition, somewhat corresponding to
1:55 [m. 81], but leading into the extended coda. Like
the previous re-transition, this one steadily builds, but it
makes more use of the descending leap from the opening
figure. The long-short rhythm of this leap is reiterated
seven times in the top three instruments, although the leap is
not consistent and two times, the downward motion of the first
violin is only a step. Against this, the cello plays
octave leaps with emphasis on the second beat of each
measure. The whole passage is rich with chromatic notes,
usually serving as “leading tones.”
4:18 [m. 180]--At the high point, the violins hold a
long note as the cello and viola settle into a pattern of
syncopation that the violins also immediately join. The
first violin is least active, holding repeated notes in the
middle of each bar (at first with the cello) before gradually
descending. The second violin and viola have more motion
within the bar, but they, along with the first violin, hold
notes over bar lines. The only downbeat articulations in
this passage are in the cello, which first slides up, then
becomes more active and starts to descend by wide leaps.
The second violin and viola join the first violin in the
slower motion. The whole passage settles down. Two
quiet, isolated chords, also held over bar lines, are
punctuated by a single cello note. These chords set up
the arrival of the “dominant” harmony, G, to begin the
4:36 [m. 192]--The coda utilizes the main theme,
including whole passages from the exposition that were omitted
from the conflated development and recapitulation. The
key signature of C minor, absent since 2:25 [m. 102],
returns. After the anticipatory pause, the violins
suddenly and forcefully rush upward in harmony, using the
familiar two-note slurs. The viola and cello, after an
octave leap, plunge downward against the violin surge.
This all leads to a grand statement of the opening gesture in
the first violin. It is now accompanied and harmonized
by the continuing two-note slurs, which are played in an arch
pattern ans passed between pairs of instruments. These
continue under two altered, lower reiterations of the
distinctive descending leap.
4:43 [m. 198]--The continuation of Theme 1 heard after
the opening gesture provides most of the material for the
coda. It is first presented in an intensified form, with
higher upward-shooting figures in the first violin. The
viola, then the second violin, provide nearly parallel
harmonization for these figures. The viola settles into
syncopated double stops. The cello plays a slow bass
line that mostly descends by half-steps. As the passage
reaches its high point, the first violin sweeps downward,
recalling the “yearning” motion. This is harmonized by
another arching line from both second violin and viola, using
the two-note slurs.
4:52 [m. 205]--Almost imperceptibly, the original
continuation from the third measure of the movement emerges
out of the first violin descent. The original
upward-shooting gestures and yearning motion are heard.
4:57 [m. 209]--The passage from 0:08 [m. 7] is
restated. The only variation is small, but
effective. The strong chords formerly heard on upbeats
and downbeats are now reiterated in the rhythm of the first
5:05 [m. 215]--The return of the opening gesture would
be expected here by analogy, but Brahms inserts an extended
passage loosely based on the material from 0:27 [m. 21].
Having arrived in F minor, the first violin inverts the
direction of the opening gesture. The cello plays the
gesture in its original direction. The second violin and
viola move against both with upward octave leaps and neighbor
notes. They all cut off except the first violin, which
plunges down. The same pattern is presented a third
lower, with the first violin an additional octave lower (the
second violin crossing above it). The cello now has
leaps and neighbor notes.
5:10 [m. 219]--The second violin and cello take over
the “inverted” version of the main gesture, with the first
violin and viola playing the octave leaps and neighbor
notes. The key moves back home to C minor. After
the outer instruments expand outward, the first violin again
plunges down. The viola, then the second violin and
cello join it. The large descent leads to a low C on
viola and cello.
5:17 [m. 225]--As the low instruments reach the bottom,
Brahms moves “backward,” presenting the material from 0:16 [m.
13] in a most powerful variation, without the opening
gesture. Instead of playing the thematic continuation as
heard in the third measure (and again just now at 4:47 [m.
209]), the material is transformed into powerful chords passed
between the violins and the lower instruments. After the
first two measures, there is a seamless merge into the
intensified original material, including the cello’s
descending line in triplet rhythm and the approach to a
5:27 [m. 231]--The concluding passage is incredibly
intense. It begins with the cello establishing a pedal
point on its low C, which it will hold—with continuous
syncopated pulsations—for the next 13 measures. Above
it, material based on the vigorous, passionate descending
lines from the transition (first heard at 0:42 [m. 33]) is
used for a massive buildup of speed and energy (stringendo).
The first violin, viola, and cello (on other strings above the
pedal point) play the descending lines while the second violin
adds the powerful churning, undulating motion associated with
them. All gradually become more syncopated, but the
viola is the steadiest, and it also adds the ascending
inversion of the lines. The initial pattern is stated
5:31 [m. 235]--The first violin reaches higher, and its
descent becomes longer and very syncopated, with notes held
across bar lines. The viola and cello are again less
syncopated (except for the pedal point) and the second violin
continues the churning motion. As the first violin
completes its descent, the viola joins the agitated motion of
the second violin, and syncopation becomes even heavier in all
the instruments. The first violin draws out its cadence
as the second violin and viola settle onto forcefully
syncopated repetitions of a dissonant “diminished seventh”
chord. At the cadence, the cello pedal point finally
5:41 [m. 244]--The first violin shoots up with the
familiar pattern involving repeated notes. The cello
quickly joins in the opposite direction, plunging down.
The second violin and viola also shoot upward, the second
violin including octave leaps. This all culminates in
the fully harmonized downward leap from the opening gesture,
but it now lands on F-sharp, the leading tone of the
“dominant” harmony. This leap had been heard toward the
end of the passages from 0:16 [m. 13] and 5:17 [m. 225]
against the descending triplet-rhythm line in the cello.
In both cases, a C-minor cadence was approached, but the
arrival was diverted into new material. It is now at
last granted finality with a pause and three powerful
chords. This final gesture bears a more than superficial
resemblance to the very opening of the first movement.
6:03 (runoff after 5:48)--END OF MOVEMENT [248 mm.]
END OF QUARTET
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