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Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25

March 29, 2019

CMS Resident Lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 in this weeks episode. Featuring a performance by Nicolas Dautricourt, violin; Paul Neubauer, viola; Mihai Marica, cello; and Orion Weiss, piano.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, Resident Lecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992. In 2011, we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever growing archive of videos made available live and on demand at ChamberMusicSociety.org.

Talk. We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus, we explore historical context and with live musicians in the studio during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's lecture is about Brahms Piano Quartet Number One in G Minor, Opus 25. Originally recorded February 11th, 2015. Good evening.

I'm delighted to be back because it's my job. But still, it's good to be here and I'm glad to see you all. And we will be discussing the G Minor Piano Quartet First movement. And we have a wonderful group of musicians with us today. So this is very exciting indeed. You know, there's a story which is definitely true.

It's from a letter, a grandson of Clara Schumann, describing a rehearsal of the piano quartet. You're about to hear the first movement, actually. Brahms is at the piano. Joachim was first was playing violin, and his members of his quartet, Joachim’s Quartet, was playing. And during, right before it started, a local conductor named Kogal came into the room and said, “Hey, Brahms, hey, Brahms.

You must come tonight to hear me conduct one of your symphonies and the academic overture.” I say one of your symphony because I don't remember which one, but it doesn't matter for the story. And he said, “You must come.” He said, “But I want to ask if it's okay with you. I take certain liberties with the symphony.” Without saying what they were.

Brahms said, Don't worry, the police will not come after you if you take some liberties.” Then he started the rehearsal and at the end of the rehearsal, Brahms said, “I think it's going to be good. I'm very satisfied.” And then he said very loudly to the small audience that was watching the rehearsal, “But if Herr Kogal has any liberties for us, this is a good time to say what they would be.”

But Kogal had left. So everybody was looking around the room and that was the end. So I love that story. There's not much to it, but I, reason I tell it, though, is I was telling you last week about how Brahms was good at dishing out nasty comments. And he was, he had a sarcastic sense of humor that was almost never stopping.

But it's important to know that he also was good at taking it. And I don't mean insults, but he got a lot of bad reactions to his music more than you could imagine because we don't think of him that way. But for example, the D Minor Piano Concerto, his first piano concerto, which is a youthful piece, all the other concertos were written later.

The D minor, which is around the time of this piece, is kind of experimental. He's still finding his way. And at the we know from a letter from Brahms to Joachim that at the first performance of the D Minor Piano Concerto, which is a very well-loved piece now, and played it everywhere Brahms described the reaction as nobody said anything to him after the rehearsal, none of the musicians and nobody moved a muscle.

Then as a performance, when it was over, there was silence. And then, as he said, three pairs of hands clapping slowly and hissing from everywhere else in the audience. And then at the next performance, the next day, no one came. And this is not an exaggeration, you know, no one came. But in the same letter, the reason I say he could take it is in the same letter, he says to Joachim, “This was a good experience because he said, I know what the piece is, and it helps me to know that I still know what it is even after that.” Which is amazing.

But of course, he he did say also at the end of the letter, “I'm going to revise some of it,” and not because of the reaction, but because he's still thinking about it. So it's great. Now, this piece you're about to hear also got a terrible, terrible reaction in its first few performances. And there, it was, it took a long time.

It wasn't just from critics, although the first real music critic, the first professional Hanzlik, who is a very close friend of Brahms, wrote a terrible review of it. This is what he said of the opening theme, or of all the themes in the first movement, really, “For one thing, the themes are insignificant. Brahms has a tendency to favor themes whose contrapuntal viability is far greater than their essential inner content.

The themes of this quartet are dry and prosaic in the course of events they are given a wealth of imaginative derivatives, but-” sounds like financial stuff. But derivatives. “But the effectiveness of the whole is impossible without significant themes.” Now, two other people who thought the themes were dry and boring were Clara Schumann, who wrote him that in a letter.

And Joachim. Let's see, let's hear the opening of this piece and see how you feel. (music) Now, we're not going to vote on it or anything, but the very opening is just octaves. Can you just play that again, Orion? (music) And then it, we get some harmonies. Of course, hearing unison octaves is typical in openings for a long time in classical music, in Haydn, in Mozart, in Beethoven. All kinds of great pieces start with this kind of rhetorical device, which is clarity, a simple phrase.

And by rhetorical, I mean, it's like the subject of the lecture, so to speak, or the idea of the piece is stated with no harmony in its purity. What's unusual is it's also quarter notes. Excuse me a moment. There's something about this. (music) And this too, (music) but mostly this (music) that makes me wonder a little bit if Brahms was making references to certain things.

There's one piece that he probably didn't know by Mozart. It's goes like this. (music) Well, this is the end of the previous movement. Okay. (music) So, that very first thing is exactly the same. And not that it's unusual, really. (music) In a different key, but the intervals might also be referring to something that he knew very well that Robert Schumann wrote.

And then it gets quoted a little bit later, which is this. It's a little song where the text is (inaudible) Whoa, how angry is the woman? And almost every woman who knew Brahms was angry. (music) (singing) Well, be that as it may, before we get to the second theme, I think what people were expecting is something like this. (music)

Now, Brahms wrote that and he never appears. But what that is, and I've mentioned this kind of thing last week, is it rounds out the opening phrase. It gives the kind of lush texture and accompaniment that people loved in Brahms, even though he was very young when he wrote this. And it also finishes. It has a second phrase (music) and ends.

But that's not what Brahms was interested in. He's interested in open ended phrases that suggest the possibility of development, suggests that things will become varied, so that we're always at the- you're always at the edge of your seat waiting for the next thing. And the variations and the development are tied together. In fact, this is an enormous structure and it is continually evolving.

Immediately, the second idea, maybe we should play the second idea. The second idea seems brand new, but it is related to the first one. Now, see if you can somewhere, it doesn't have to be in English or verbal, but somewhere musically even, connect what you're about to hear with what you just heard. But actually, let's go back and do both themes.

The opening of the piece all the way through to the downbeat of 21. Let's not play the downbeat of 21. So the end of 20. (music) Okay, So thank you. So pardon me. How do we get from that first idea to the second? But even before that, in the in the first idea, don't you get the feeling- this is a leading question.

Inadmissible, but don't you get the feeling that the piece opens up when the strings come in and the cello has the tune? And this is some kind of introduction? (music) You don't have to agree with that. But emotionally, this is so spare. We get a cadence and then when the cello comes in, it sounds like the pieces open up, but we're not in the tonic key anymore.

Now, that, probably, in 2015, is not going to upset anybody. That, you know, we're in the wrong key. But what Brahms has already done is actually a rhythmic thing. He has weight and it's done with instrumentation. He's waited the piece so that it's off. The correct key, G minor, is thin and kind of suggestive, but ghostlike perhaps. Then, when it opens up with the ensemble we're in D minor, which is the the dominant minor.

So he's already in a wrong place. He has to get back, which he does. It does end in the right place. (music) Then there's this silence, this long silence, which is like Haydn and Mozart. This is a classical silence. There's a statement and then there's nothing. And that kind of silence is the classical aspect of Brahms's temperament, which is he's going to wait this and then he's going to give you a moment like Haydn would.

But then what happens is something brand new. So where does this come from? (music) And what about this in the in the strings? (music) Well, you don't have to know where it comes from, but I'm going to tell you so in case it comes up later in life... It comes from a few places. The accompaniment, can you play the cello solo for a moment? Right where you come in? (music)

Great, now, sorry, but what the piano is doing is... (music) That, if you take this (music) and you put it on the downbeat, (music) that's what this theme is. (music) What's interesting about this is this is Brahms’- again, it's rhythm like we talked about last week. For him, rhythm is really one of the most significant ways of propelling a composition. So, by having off beats in a simple accompaniment, (music) he takes this out of context (music) and puts it on the beat. (music)

And that balances the harmonic lack of the- imbalance of the harmonies too. That we started in G minor and the D minor like this. You get a silence and then the accompaniment is shifted to the downbeat. And what about what the strings are doing? (music) Well, if you listen to the theme, (music) if you stop right here, (music) we have an F sharp, a G and a whole step and a half step, that, (music) it's a small thing, but that's what composing is about.

It's those little tiny connections. And that's why Schoenberg, who was obsessed with this piece and he orchestrated it, would be so obsessed with it. And we're going to hear a little bit of that. But he was obsessed with this piece, partly because he knew that Brahms was dealing with intervals, not just melodic sections, but intervals and rhythmic structure in a way that gave Schoenberg new ideas.

Schoenberg when- it’s sort of backwards what Schoenberg did. He said, “Brahms was really a progressive forward thinker. Look how it connects to my music.” It's not actually what happened. What happened was he saw in Brahms all these possibilities that nobody had used, and therefore Schoenberg extended the voice of Brahms into the 20th century and being the most revolutionary composer of that time, except perhaps Debussy, but the most dissonant and complex revolutionary.

I will compare them for you. Now, that's - I’d have to do that over dinner, but so you can always invite me over. But basically, and, you know, when people invited Brahms over, the Felinger family did, the Wittgenstein family did, and the Anna Wittgenstein and a few other people kept lists of what they served. And so they never repeated anything.

This is true. Okay. Anyway, I know I'm slightly off topic, but so what he hears there is that these small intervals are being used to give new ideas. That concept Schoenberg described as developing variation and this piece is not a great example of it. It's an early experiment in it. He gets better and better at it his whole life.

But this is an early example of repeating details in new ways to give new things very, very organic. Didn't Beethoven do that? Of course. But Brahms did it in a way that was new and rhythmically oriented and then intervalically oriented so that it started to become a new idea. At the same time as Brahms looked back to classicism, even that silence like Haydn, even that silence is classical.

So when you have this new focus on intervals and rhythmic displacement and a classical ballad, you are looking backwards. And potentially for someone like Schoenberg, you're opening up a new path at the same time. New path being how he was described, the new path of music described by Schumann. His introduction to the world of Brahms was the new path.

Now, by the way, I have to get back to this one more time. (music) If you wanted to make this somewhat ornamented and more connected, I’ll play in the right hand the Brahms and connect it with some ornaments just to make it more lyrical. (music) And we get into the last movement. But it is interesting. It's not that interesting, but it does the kind of thing that I enjoy.

Okay, It's important to include those things for my own entertainment. Now, so we know how those two things move forward. The next thing that happens is kind of shocking. I will back up again, starting at the beginning again, and this time we're going to go all the way to, I think what we should do, and I'll describe it first a little bit, is go all the way to the downbeat of 41.

Now, what's going to happen here is Brahms brings back that opening theme He uses octaves. So the theme is, even though it seems like it's about intervals, it's really about shape. And this also is an idea that became important in the 20th century, partly through Schoenberg. Schoenberg said that each piece is built on a shape and that shape, the ground, he called it.

That ground is continually being molded and remolded into new ideas and that he got this from Brahms too. So immediately you will hear, actually we should probably demonstrate a little bit, sorry. Immediately we'll hear this. (music) But that is not the same intervals, right? It's not (music) It's (music) and then (music) moving around. And not only is it a new shape, but notes are being redefined because we were in G minor, (music) but all of a sudden we just end up here. (music)

He gets there through a modulation. And this note (music) is no longer this note. (music) That's what it was before. It was F sharp. It was this. (music) But now it's (music) That note has been redefined. So what was an F sharp becomes a G flat in a new key. And it's very powerful that way. He needs to get it back. (music)

There it is. And now because of the harmonies (music) oh, sorry, because of the harmonies that G Flat comes back, he wrenches it back into G minor. Then something will appear as they start to theme again, something will appear. A rhythmic idea. And that rhythmic idea will take over the piece almost like a virus. Now, did Brahms know anything about viruses?

I can't be sure. But I can tell you his absolute best friend was the most famous doctor and surgeon in Germany. So maybe. Okay. But I think it would have been great. I don't think he wrote because of viruses. But if you're hearing people talk about how things get taken over and systems are- you might, it might creep into your subconscious and it might be your music.

Don't forget, Freud was alive. Okay, go ahead. Try it. (music) Great. And now I just want to go back and dissect that a little bit, because there are two interesting things at least here. One is that the dynamics go with the harmony. They're structural. What I mean by that is he puts a piano somewhere softly because of the harmonic language at that moment and then forte when it's rescued from that.

So, for example, that's what I mean by structural. Their dynamics can be for color, just pure drama. But in Beethoven and Brahms is always looking back for instruction to Beethoven. And in Schubert, dynamics are usually compositionally integrated. So for example, this part you hear (music) that interruption when we get to G flat we’re in, you probably could feel, we're in an area that we shouldn't be in. This harmony, where are we? We're in G flat. I mean, no, we're probably in B-flat minor.

(music) How did we get there? It's scary. And it's also because it's octaves. You really are not sure what's going to happen, but the crescendo back to the same note redefined. The crescendo means we've been rescued and then we get back. Now, the other thing that's really interesting is the, again, rhythmic pacing of how this takeover happens. This is very cinematic.

And, of course, there were no movies yet. There was photography, but has nothing to do with it. You get this, (music) you get one per beat, one per measure. One, two, three. (music) One, two, three. (music) Two, three. But then you get one every other beat (music) and then you get three in a measure (music) and then you get four when the strings come in.

So it's one and then two, and then three and then four. And it's sculpted in like this one, two, three measures of one in a bar, one measure of two, two measures of three, and then four just runs rampant. So when I say it's cinematic, it's like the technique of film editing between, let's say, a train coming and somebody’s fear or some other thing, something peaceful. If you know the train is coming or I don't know why I picked a train, but they move fast, a train coming at an object or an innocent person who doesn't know it's coming.

And you see the train, you see the person, you see the train, you see the person. If you're a good editor, or at least the tradition and the original concept of that would be that you have some time on the train and some time in the person at a time gets shorter and shorter. And if it's done exactly in proportion, it feels pretty scary.

And then right at the last minute it's even faster and stays longer. And then it's really scary. So let's see, do that again and see if we can count the editing right from 27 to the same place that you stopped. I'll raise fingers. (music) Great. That's a very interesting thing to appreciate. And if you hold on to a thought like that kind of cinematic editing, you'll hear it in a lot of composers.

Beethoven, the most extreme example in classical music. And I would say before the 20th century, where there are many extreme examples, is Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang, the string quartet in which there is a chorale tune and the music of health, they are edited back and forth like two different pieces, and they go in and out and they then get woven together.

Now, in the next phrase, since Brahms has put this together as a great drama and it's been kind of compressed. It's another way to look at it. It's, you have this much energy and it's being compressed because of the amount of time it takes to do it. Now he separates things out in order to make a transition.

This is very simple. Let's just play right up to the second theme. So through bar 49, from 42 through the end of 49. Here, you hear him separating out the theme and the chords. (music) Great. Now the purpose of that, that's a re transition, they call it. Whoever they are. I mean a transition, I mean theorists. I know so many musicians.

I don't know any actual theorists. They always see something else too. But, which is good, like a pianist theorist that's good. Just a plain theorist. Less, a little less good, but the idea of a re transition means it's going back to something. But this is pretty much a transition straight into what's called the second theme. How many themes have we heard already?

This is called the second theme only because it's completely brand new, supposedly, and in the right key for a second theme. So Brahms, by right key, I mean, you know, the idea of a sonata exposition in the most basic sense is that you have some music in the tonic key and then you move to the dominant or to a relative key and have new music.

We've had so much already. So many things have happened, so many ideas that it's already in a state of constant development. The second theme that we're about to hear again in the cello, again in D minor, gives us a strange balance because when the cello first came in, even though it was the first theme we were in not the key of the piece. We were in D minor.

So when the cello comes in again, the cello seems to be insisting on D minor. Why do you do that? Oh, yes, yes. Good point. You're sitting so next to Brahms. That's probably what it is. Now, but before we leave the opening section, I'd like you to hear the opening section. Just a little bit of what we've heard.

Not all of it. As orchestrated by Schoenberg since I've been talking about him so much. (music) Wow.

Okay. It changes a lot. It's very Brahmsian in a way, but also not because it has, it's very thick. It has some instruments Brahms never saw like a bass clarinet and... but one of the things that's interesting about it is you can hear what Schoenberg thought was important. So, for example, that second theme, the piano is in the winds above the strings.

He obviously thought that that was more significant than it's usually played. Why did Schoenberg do this? In other words, usually the string part comes out more, but Schoenberg felt the piano part should be there. Why did Schoenberg do this? He did it for a couple of reasons, and I have a list that he made of why he did it, which I hope to find. Oh, but I have it memorized anyway, just in case I don't find it.

All right. This is why he did it. He said, “one, I like the piece.” I'm not kidding. “Two, it's never played well.” That's Schoenberg talking. “Three, it's never played well because the pianists are always too loud.” And that was it. There are only three reasons, but a nice little story is that Schoenberg was aware of a document that he saw in which Brahms had written, had autographed-

We used to have a thing called an autograph fan. Women would have fans and you would write on them, you know, get a famous person to write on your fan. That should come back. It's great. But she asked the daughter of Johann Strauss, the, Waltz King, asked Brahms to autograph her fan. So he wrote out some of the Blue Danube Waltz, and under it he wrote, “Unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms.”

So Schoenberg spent a lot of time for some reason learning to do Brahms's handwriting. This is pretty obsessive. And then we have a document. I have it right here. Maybe we should put it online. Except I don't know about the copyrights. But anyway, he copied out the whole thing. Schoenberg wrote out the waltz in Brahms’ handwriting, and wrote, “Unfortunately not by Brahms,” but under it he wrote out this (music) and wrote, “Unfortunately, not by Schoenberg. ”

Okay. He's a serious guy. Now we get to the second theme where the cello is in D minor again. Let's hear that. (music) Okay. Okay, good. Great. That's totally fine. That’s enough. I mean, that obviously not everybody was going to come jumping in on you. Now, where does that theme come from? This is kind of an antidote theme, because if you go to the doctor with this, (music) you might be prescribed this (music) anyway.

It's, what goes in small phrases and is sad and dropping is answered by something dramatic, passionate, robust and healthy and ascending. It does have in it some inklings, but it almost has to because I've seen articles, believe it or not, I read these things where people talk about this has a half step too, and that had a half step.

This one has a whole step here and a half step there, so it must be the same thing as this. Maybe. But you can't write anything in this period without whole steps and half steps except thirds and sixths. And he does that also. But so it gets a little bit crazy. In the accompaniment, we have this (music) and (music) this (music) some people think and I know some of these people, some people think that this (music) is (music) but in slow motion, (music) one of those people is Arnold Schoenberg and when he orchestrates it, you can hear it.

So he was thinking about that. I'm going to keep referring to him because he was so obsessed with this, as you can see. And it gives it an interesting light because it was such a disliked piece in Brahms's time because it was considered a little bit ugly and not full of beautiful themes and also too long and overwritten.

Even Joachim and Clara, as I said, not only criticized the themes, but they said “You really should cut some of it.” And then some of the letters, one of the letters, Clara Schumann writes to Brahms, “The D major section,” which we haven't gotten to, “is way too long. There's way too much D major. There should be more G minor.

You really should edit that.” So he did work on that, but he left it the way it was. He worked on it. He revised it, but he threw all his revisions away and went back to the original. And I think because he, Brahm’s was not against revising, not against changing, and definitely not against trying to please Joachim and Clara Schumann, Joachim, Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann.

He would do whatever they wanted if it made them happy, you made sure it was right, but not when he knew that he was onto something. And so even though the proportions seemed out of balance to them and the time spent in one key or another, it seemed too much to them, he felt that he was doing something different because he was trying to redefine this classical form without destroying it.

And in other words, why even write a sonata? Not a lot of people were writing sonatas anymore when Brahms was doing this. Don't forget, Wagner was all the rage. Now, the Wagner, Brahms argument, there's a lot written about it, but I'm going to sum it up a little bit because it's often misunderstood, even though if you read enough, it's clear, they didn't hate each other the same way. Brahms liked Wagner's music.

He didn't like the operas. So what does that mean? He liked his harmonic writing. He liked his compositional ideas. He didn't like opera that much to begin with. He hardly went to any. His favorite Verdi was the Requiem. He didn't want to go to the operas and he said, if people are not wearing costumes and running around that it's much better than the standstill and sing.

He didn't- he liked Bizet's Carmen, but that's the only opera he seems to have gone to, except Don Giovanni, which he said was better reading it on, in the score than hearing it live. Except once. Only once did he like Don Giovanni, because it was done well and it was because it was conducted by Mahler and he told him so.

And that's, becomes a really wonderful moment in music history. Then he told Mahler later, “You're a great conductor. I don't like your music.” So he admired the harmonic world of Wagner. He did not like the operatic thing. He did not like the libretti. He did not like a lot of things about it. Wagner didn't have any use for Brahms whatsoever.

He felt that Brahms's music was very old fashioned, but he also felt that Brahms was bourgeois and was just trying to fit into the certain niche in Viennese society. But he also didn't like the way he dressed. Of course, the way Wagner dressed is legendary and has a huge budget attached to it. But beyond that, and I'm just going to throw this in because it's true, one of the most significant parts of the rivalry was actually political and who people associated with, because Brahms had a lot of friends from different walks of life and different religions.

And Vienna in Brahms's lifetime was changing quite a lot, and people from all over the Empire were moving into Vienna and the walls came down while Brahms moved in. There were walls, you know, it was an old city. They came down and with the walls coming down came people from all over Europe who had been under the domination.

You know, it's one of the old lessons you learn if you, by the way, if you ever feel like conquering a country, remember this, that if you conquer lots of other states, they're eventually going to be your citizens. And if you don't like them, just leave them where they are. So Wagner wanted Germany to be pure. Wagner was also, obviously, you probably know, a rabid anti-Semite, and he wrote a lot about about it, a famous article, Jews in Music in which he said things like if Mendelssohn weren’t Jewish, he probably would be really good, but he's not good because this Judaism prevents him from being anything other than mediocre.

When the famous theater in Vienna burned down, there was a theater where they did lots of operas, but also musicals, what we call musicals now, operettas and straight plays. The audience for that opera was 70% Jewish, and most of these people were the like the Wittgensteins and a lot of other people. These were Brahms's friends. When it burned down quite a few hundred Jewish citizens of Vienna were killed.

And Wagner said to Cosima, who wrote it in her diary, that Wagner said, “I hope the new theater burns down, too, and we'll finish it off.” So this was a serious, serious guy. And apparently he was laughing when he said it, which is also notated by Cosima. We don't know why she put that there. Maybe she thought it was funny.

Maybe she just wanted people to know. So Brahms knew this and he despised him because of that, too. And he also didn't like Bruckner for the same reason Bruckner came in was the great new voice of music. And there are a lot of amazing parts of this rivalry because Brahms was very powerful in Vienna. At the conservatory, he didn't teach, but he was powerful anyway.

He affected everything that happened in music. And he was against Bruckner because Bruckner was an outspoken anti everything. He was quite a racist, wanted pure Germany, too. And he ran the New Wagner Society, which had no Jews allowed and probably no other things. But, you know, anything other than certain- also Brahms was Protestant, and that was also not good because they were Catholic. Anyway.

So these are, this is all part of it. One little sub-story I will tell you, because this is quite fascinating, because Brahms also had his terrible faults, because he was so mean without having a problem with it, that politically, for example, at the conservatory, there was a young student who was a roommate of Mahler's, the roommate Mahler was named Hans Rott, R-O-T-T.

You can look up his music. You might find, there’s an E-flat Major symphony. There's a string quartet. It's just a little bit left. He died when he was 25. And that happened because, well, we don't know exactly why, but the story is that he applied for a position and a scholarship, etc., at the school. And because he was studying with Bruckner and his music was Bruckner influenced, Brahms apparently told him that he had no talent and should not be a composer. He should just give up.

But he didn't know that this was a very unstable young man who actually was suffering from what we now probably would call bipolar. But there was a lot of evidence to this and he went, there's no direct correlation to this, but probably a few months later on a train, he went over to a man who was smoking a pipe on the train, which was fine, and told him he'd better put it out because it'll cause a fire.

And the bombs that Brahms planted on the train to kill him will explode. And he was very serious about this. And so because he thought Brahms was trying to kill him, he was eventually put in an institution. Not the same institution as Robert Schumann, but it put in an institution and died there very, very young. So this is a sidetrack.

But when you hear, I don't usually go so much into the life, but I think it's important to see where this fits in once in a while. So there we go. Now back to the to the notes. Can you hear all of this in the music? No, that's ridiculous. Don't even suggest it. Alright, so after the second theme moves on, it goes on for quite some time.

We finally get let's do the, starting with the explosion at 77. We move into this big D major section that Clara couldn't stand. So let's build- starting from 77, moving into the big D major section. (music) Thank you. Thank you. Fantastic. Now, you notice that what Brahms is doing here is the tune that was in D minor is now in major, but underneath it the piano is playing that virus.

Could you play your, just the piano part for a moment, which has now become a positive accompanimental figure. (music) Okay, great, great, great. And that's interesting what's happened to it, because it's not become benign. See, it's not become banal at all because it could be. If he had done something where he just where if he had just, (music) you know, something like that.

But he doesn't do that. He keeps it alive by, it grows, it becomes chromatic. The shape is new. It turns into yet another motif as well. So Brahms’, and this is something that I think Janacek learned from Brahms, that no accompanimental figure is ever merely an accompaniment. It always has a life of its own.

And if you take that to an extreme, you get the music of Janacek, where the accompaniments are so alive that they break off and become the new idea. And sometimes they're surrounded by shocking silences. And then you have these, what you thought was an accompaniment. This happens in life all the time. You know, what you thought was an accompaniment to you is not.

Like when you were a child., you think your parents are an accompaniment to you. Then you find out they're not. That's a big shock. That's exactly what happens with themes and their accompaniments, you know. It happens all the time. And at some point some people eventually realize that nobody is really just an accompaniment to them. Everyone's an accompaniment to each other. Wow, oh, that was moving.

Anyway, so we move past this because I want to get to the big structural points now. We are still in the exposition. We finally get to the coda of the exposition, which starts at 120, 130 and here you hear him literally deconstructing. Now, Schoenberg came up with a different term. We use the term deconstructing a lot in literature and music and what it means is to take the theme, start fragmenting it, and then break it into its clear parts and you start to see what it's actually made of.

And if you, you can analyze it that way and make it into its smallest units, but he's actually doing that in the music itself, not analytically. It's what the music does. Schoenberg called it liquidation. Don't forget it was his second language. Okay, So let's start right at that coda. (music) Okay, great. Now, we'll go there in a moment. So, you can see that he was moving it to such a degree that just two notes is meaningful.

The two notes, you know what they are. And then he can just go back and forth between only two notes. This kind of liquidation, if you want to call it that, getting, dying away and then having some pizzicato as was used by Schubert, including with the pizzicatos in several pieces, where you get this feeling of something disappearing into the dust.

And Brahms loved Schubert. He was obsessed with Schubert, as was Robert Schumann, obsessed with Schubert, and Brahms actually edited the works of Schubert. He was a big musicologist and editor and publisher. Well, not, he worked for a publisher. Now, the next phrase is a different kind of comment. I remember when I played that- I don't have to play it.

Alright, remember when I played this thing that Brahms never wrote, the three against two version? (music) One thing that he does in the next phrase is he is almost taunting you with the idea that he could have done that. But he separates the ghost-like phrase with the beautiful accompaniment and they don't come together. Let's let's hear that.

It's much more powerful. We’ll be right at 141. (music) Okay. And then, of course, you do get a little bit of it soon because he can't do that and not give it to you because then you would really not like him. And he, even though he didn't usually care what people said, he knows that you can't be that tempting and not give it.

So we, let’s play, just move on right from where you are and you'll see this, a little bit of it. Actually. Let's go all the way from 147 into the next section. I'll stop you. (music) Okay. Now, wait a minute. What's going on here? It's starting over. Right. It seems like it's starting over. Now, this is a great moment for Brahms because he's doing something very special.

Yes, it sounds exactly like it's starting over for quite some time here. This whole first phrase and the whole next few bars. And he continues it even longer with a transposition. But it's there. Now, think about what sonata form usually is, and I'll help you do that. Usually the exposition has a repeat and you go back, you hear musicians say, “Should we take the repeat?”

They always do. If they're playing in a major hall. Unless the major hall is in a not so major place and they have a plane to catch, then you skip the repeat. In a recording, you have to play the whole thing twice because if you don't, people will realize you've used the thing twice, and that's very bad for your reputation.

What is that repeat doing there anyway? The repeat is a holdover from a suite form, a small baroque suite where all the, each section was repeated. And then as these things got larger, the first section was repeated and the second section and then eventually the second section, since it was so developmental and full of new ideas and variation, repeating, that seemed crazy.

So you repeated this exposition to make it clear what the ideas are and to keep the history of the form and then you would have this new second section. Eventually composers started to feel that repeating that needed to be justified. So you find, especially in Beethoven, instead of just the repeat sign, two endings. A first ending and you repeat and a second ending to go on.

And they're quite different. And they could be, they get more and more extensive. But then eventually some composers do away with the repeat. And Brahms has done something quite interesting here. He goes right back to the beginning in the right key with nothing changed, but it's not a repeat. And you start to find that out soon. You think it is because it's the development section.

Now, the development section, the section where everything starts to become even more new and fresh and engaging and complex than it was before, supposedly, Sometimes it's hard to do that after you've done so much, but in that new developmental section, composers do not start in the same key that it started in. They just don't. They start in a shocking new key.

They start with it fragmented and broken up. So starting in the new key sounds like a repeat. It's a kind of a fakeout. It's kind of a- it's not humorous, but it's confusing on purpose. In other words, he didn't do it to confuse you, even though it is confusing. He did it because he was just thinking about the form.

What if I take that concept of a repeat and instead of repeating it, start the repeat and have it go into a new section? So it's a new way of hearing it. If you're aware of key and you feel like the piece is repeating and then it doesn't. And then in comes the virus, which it does, comes crashing in and it takes over the piece.

You realize, wait a minute, this is a development section. It's very, very powerful, and I think I'll save that for when they play through the whole thing, because the development is enormous and it's full of ideas that relate to what we've just done. How does he get out of this? Because how does he do, now, the return, the recapitulation, if he's already started in G minor and he’s, which is the key of the piece and he's already given you the same music? He can't really do that again because then the piece sounds all wrong.

So he does something that Schubert sometimes did, but then he adds some new Brahmsian thoughts. He takes the first idea and the second idea and he moves, shifts them around. They're backwards, and he puts the second idea in major, in G major, which is perfect because originally it was in major too, but it wasn't in G major.

Then he does some extra new things we haven't heard before. It's a beautiful tune in the cello. Maybe we'll hear that in a moment. In fact, let's hear this as I'm describing it. So at bar 237, this is... let me, let's actually do the pizzicatos right before that, before 237. So two bars before. He signals that he's going to do the recapitulation with these two pizzicatos.

So he's almost like saying, “Please, listen, now we're going to get into the return.” (music) Now, right here. We'll start that in a second. Right here we get music we haven't had before. It sounds familiar because it's based on everything, but this is a new section that is, its whole purpose is to get back to the first theme somehow in G minor again.

So let's hear a little bit of that so we can hear the cello solo. (music) Now, is this the return? Why don't you play from 259 But I'll talk over you, which I know is annoying, but I won’t later. So what's going to happen is we think we're in the return, but the notes are wrong. So, we're not. We're not.

And then suddenly we do return. But it is not the very opening because we already had that at the beginning of the development. It's the next section. So he's really been careful about this. You know, you have this whole exposition and you start what looks like a repeat, sounds like a repeat, but it actually is the development.

Then he goes backwards through the second idea into the first, but it's the second statement of the first, which is the one that has the (singing) So you'll recognize that. Okay, let's do right at 259. This can't be it. The notes are wrong. Okay, good. Great, great. So there, you see, that means, that feels like we finally made the return.

But actually, we’ve been back for quite some time. We're just backwards. So this is a big, big, complex structure, which is the reason that even though his close friends, all great musicians complained about the structure being too hard to follow and too complicated and out of balance and the keys were too overweighted and he understood what they were saying perfectly well.

He left it. Because what he did in here was an experiment which changed his composing after that. And the very, very end, I won't, I guess we don't have to talk about that. But there is, ah, maybe we should. There are some great dissonances. As it comes to its final, final close, there are some strange, beautiful dissonances and they are acceptable in his time, partly because they weren't that dissonant for that time.

But they're strange dissonances because he is doing this thing I talk about with the rhythm. Things are misaligned, almost cubist. Can we start right at, again, he introduces it with pizzicato. So at 262? All the interesting sections have these little pizzicatos. It's time for a new idea. 362. (music) 50, 4 to 69. Okay, now you may have heard those dissonances, but I'm going to ask you to play this really slowly, just the same exact thing and so we can really hear painful these dissonances are.

Let me- yeah, same thing. (music) Yeah, that's pretty intense stuff. It's, you know, it's, Brahms's sense of dissonance was different from the more modern composers. You know, Richard Strauss- now, this is early. Strauss wasn't doing much of anything, but Richard Strauss and Mahler and Debussy were all composing when Brahms was composing later on, you know, in the later part of Brahms’ life.

And Brahms died before he was 64. So if he had lived a better life, a longer life, I should say, he would have lived easily into hearing Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, but didn't quite get there. And the dissonances you hear here are traditional harmonies that, instead of going like this, are rhythmically misaligned in order, because that's what life is like.

I mean, it's not lining up right, for me today, you know, or, and for Brahms, that lining up thing, I mean, it's very important. So you have this in the strings (music) at the same time as this chord in the piano. (music) And then you have also the piano itself plays this (music) and you also have this in the piano with this in the strings.

And one of the most famous dissonances in Brahms in terms of, it's very easy to explain what he's doing. It's so simple and yet nobody else had done it. Is the end of his B Minor Intermezzo ends like this. (music) All it is are those dropping thirds we talked about last week, but it's all one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

That's all the notes in the scales. All seven notes. There's a harmony. (music) That's a perfectly normal (music) Beethoven loved that chord, but it's resolving and it all stays there. And just when you can't take it anymore, it resolves. So it's a dissonance in the Brahms matter, which is a structurally clear, unassailable, he would say. He used the German equivalent of that which you could find out on your translator app what it is. The unassailable explicable, not a dissonance, just because it's emotional, but because he's lining up something in a new way that has a traditional background.

Okay, Now I think we better hear the entire movement. We have just enough time to do that. Ah. (music) We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Visit ChamberMusicSociety.org to watch videos of these lectures as well as masterclasses and performances. And while you're there, check out the calendar of upcoming Chamber Music Society events in New York and around the world. See you in two weeks.