Philips - 1 LP - 802 815 - (p) 1968
Philips Duo - 2 CDs - 456 320-2 - (c) 1997
Decca - 37 CDs - 478 8824 - (c) 2015

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

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

33' 41"
- Allegro 11' 18"

- Romance (Poco adagio) 7' 24"

- Allegretto molto moderato e comodo - Un poco pi animato 8' 35"

- Allegro 6' 06"

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1
25' 51"
- Introduzione (Andante expressivo - Allegro)
9' 41"

- Scherzo (Presto) - Intermezzo
3' 42"

- Adagio 5' 55"

- Presto 6' 17"

- Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violino
- Piero Farulli, viola
- Franco Rossi, violoncello


Luogo e data di registrazione
Thtre Vevey, Vevey (Svizzera) - 18-31 agosto 1967

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Tony Buczynski

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 802 815 | 1 LP | (p) 1968

Prima Edizione CD
Philips Duo | 456 320-2 | 2 CDs - 71' 55 - 75' 21" - (1, 1-4) | (c) 1997 | ADD | (Brahms)
Decca | 478 8824 | 37 CDs - (33, 1-4) | (c) 2015 | ADD | (Schumann)


The fact that Brahms left us only three string quartets and delayed publication of the first (the one we hear here) until 1873 when he was 40 years old can be blamed in a way on Schumann. For iy was Schumann who championed the young Brahms before he became established as a composer. Indeed he regarded him as something of a musical Messiah - "This is he that should come," he wrote to his friend Joseph Joachim, meaning that he saw in Brahms the true heir to Beethoven's throne. These sentiments he soon made public in an article in the "Neue Zeitschrift fr Musik" in 1853 when Brahms was only 20 and had not yet had anything published.
However right Schumann was in his predictions, they placed an almost intolerable burden of responsibility on the young composer's shoulders in living up to his glowing image. The result was a ruthless self-critical attitude toward his own work - particularly in the fields of the symphony and the string quartet, those areas of the art in which Beethoven was supreme. But one should not imagine that Brahms as a result lacked confidence in his own ability. He knew that he could never be Beethoven's equal, but he knew that with diligence he could (and did) become a worthy successor. If he was afraid of comparison of his works with those of Beethoven, he was never afraid of the shadow of Beethoven itself. His work (and this first quartet in particular) constantly acknowledges Beethoven as his master and guiding light in a perfectly frank way. Nor was he afraid of tackling string quartet writing. We know from his correspondence that he wrote about twenty other quartets before the C Minor, none of which passed his rigorous self-set standards, though many must surely have been masterpieces. The C Minor Quartet, then, is not the first of Brahms' string quartets, but rather the first that he chose to let posterity hear. When we consider the composer's complete artistic integrity, that in itself is surely recommendation enough of its greatness.
Strangely Schumann too published only three string quartets, but it was enthusiasm rather than hesitance that led to them, Schumann was a man of sudden and violent enthusiasms and most of his work can be classified in periods which coincide with successive preoccupations. First, and probably foremost, he was a composer of piano music. Then in 1840 came the great flood of songs. The following year 1841 was the year of orcgestral works. Chamber music followed in 1842 with all three string quartets being written in June of that year.
If any boubts remained in some people's minds about Schumann's true genius as a composer, the quartets settled the matter. They are not slavish copies of "traditional" style and form but highly original in conception. While in the A Minor Quartet we often see him thinking in terms of piano writing, this does not detract from the work's quality as a quartet any more than Brahms' orchestral thinking detracts from his.
Mendelssohn who had previously tended to treat Schumann's talent rather lightly in his good-natured way, was among those deeply impressed by the work and the distinguished critic, Moritz Hauptmann summed up critical reaction in a letter to the composer Spohr: "At David's (Ferdinand David, the German violinist, composer, and conductor) I heard three quartets of Schumann's: his first, which pleased me greatly indeed, made me marvel at his talent, which I thought by no means remarkable, judging from his previous pianoforte pieces..."

First movement: The sombre, almost tragic first movement is a towering structure, built characteristically from the smallest of thematic bricks. First is a typical stabbing figure which rises with growing vehemence and is soon combined with a lyrical tripler passage shared by the violins. The second thematic group opens with descending thirds combined with hesitant quaver groups which soon dominate the music like the famous motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The stabbing rhythms return in the descending intervals before another lyrical subject appears on the first violin as a counterpart to that in the first section and brings the esposition down to gentle rest. The development is a terse treatment of the opening motifs of the two subject groups and the recapitulation varies the presentation of the original material in masterly fashion.
Second movement: The air of defiance becomes one of deep melancholy in the superbly scored Romanze which is in simple ABA form. The essential elements of subject A inevitably recall the theme of the slow movement of Beethoven's Violin Concerto and the sobbing subject B has much in common with the Cantilena of Beethoven's Op. 130 Quartet. The gloriously rich treatment, however is complete Brahms. The first melody is skilfully brought back in a beautifully varied version and the movement ends with extended references to B and A in turn.
Third movement: The scherzo in F Minor is one in name only. It sidles along warily and uneasily in its first section, finally plucking up enough courage to sing in the second section before the air of suspicion returns with the first theme. All this lends a radiance to the simple trio in the major and makes its plodding pizzicatos seem almost cheerful.
Fourth movement: The short finale sums up concisely the whole work both emotionally and thematically Brahms uses a sonata-rondo form but telescopes it and adapts it considerably. Everywhere there are echoes of the previous movements. Most obvious is the unison opening with the same stabbing rhythm and final falling interval as the opening of the first movement. The actual notes, however are those which open the Romanze. This motif recurs with almost fateful persistence, more often than strict form requires and often in subtle disguises. The boldest break with tradition is the way Brahms creates and relieves tension by keeping us away from the home key until a final "full dress" appearance of the main theme, which takes us into the vigorous coda.

First movement: Schumann introduces his instruments one by one in a finely wrought contrapuntal introduction. The Allegro begins in F major with the first subject, a lyrical theme with a characteristic displaced accent. The important final phrase swells up on the cello again as we move into the bridge section where the viola begins a fugato passage based on the main theme. Soon we move to the dominant key, but where one might wxpect a contrasting second subject, the final phrase of the first appears staccato on the viola. It is taken up by the second violin and continues to form what is, in fact, the second subject. The opening of the main theme then returns in the codetta.
Second movement: Although the theme of the Scherzo is derived from a trio by the now largely forgotten composer Heinrich Marschner, it seems typical Schumann and, indeed, was later used again as the accompaniment of one of his songs. The scampering scherzo itself, handled with Mendelssohnian puckishness, is in three sections. As his Intermezzo, Schumann uses a little musette in C major, with the cello providing the "bagpipe" drone: the theme is derived from the previous movement's first subject.
Third movement: A short introduction leads into the song-like theme of the Adagio in F major, which the viola accompanies with piano-like arpeggios. These develop into a rolling figure as the cello takes over the first part of the theme. A move to A-flat disturbs the calm as the arpeggios begin to rise and fall from one instrument to another. The rolling figure then begins to pass to and fro between viola and second violin before the theme re-emerges on the first violin. The movement ends with the reappearance of the introduction as a postlude.
Fourth movement: The key to the finale lies in the three bold opening notes, for Schumann uses them to establish yet again a relationship between his first and second themes. The first, stated immediately, reminds us of the scampering thirds of the Scherzo. After a bridge motif, the first theme undergoes steady trasnformation, becoming more martial until we find it changed into the second subject, which begins with an inversion of the movement's three opening notes and goes striding on boldly. In the development Schumann again emphasizes the link between his subjects.
He then handles his recapitulation in a novel manner, omitting the first subject and beginning with the bridge. Only after the second subject has taken its normal place is the first theme recalled. The final surprise is a sudden lull for a longer version in A Major of the little musette before we plunge into the coda.