Brahms: Quartet in A minor Op. 51 No. 2

John Helmich, Violin

Yi-Miao Huang, Violin

Roslyn Green, Viola

George Work, Cello


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a Romantic composer who extended and redefined Germanic musical tradition with his compositions. Brahms was a child prodigy, working as a professional musician at an early age. He was born into a musical family in Hamburg, Germany where he began his study of music with his father at age seven. His approach to composition was rooted in Classical tradition, yet extremely innovative in its approach. Brahms’ music explored intricacy of form and held vast emotional depth. Although his music was rooted in the Classical style, he still became a leading figure in the Romantic era. Wiegenlied (1868) for voice and piano became one of his most timeless compositions.

Brahms’ Quartet in A minor (1873) was originally premiered by his good friend, Hungarian violinist named Joseph Joachim, who had the motto “Frei, aber einsam” (Free, but lonely). Brahms countered this idea with “Frei, aber froh” (Free, but glad). To implement these two deeply personal ideas into the work, Brahms used the groupings of pitches F-A-E and F-A-F throughout the quartet The opening movement, Allegro non tropo, developed its expansive themes polyphonically. The second movement, Andante moderato, has a vigorous canon with a Hungarian character. The third movement, Quasi Minuetto, moderato, serves as a breathtaking interlude, featuring a double canon. Finally, the Finale. Allegro non assai displays a flashing dance with that also holds a Hungarian character. Throughout the quartet Brahms displays moments of introspection growing into passionate emotional landscapes. His understanding of thematic development led him towards his obvious mastery of chamber music.