• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 2: Brahms's "Fifth Symphony?"

A longer, but extremely worthwhile post this week! :)

Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, composed in 1861, is one of the true masterpieces of 19th-century chamber music. But sometimes musicians think, "I wonder what that would sound like with different instruments...." Enter Arnold Schoenberg.

(Yes, Schoenberg. The very same Schoenberg so many of us often associate with music of great intellectual-but perhaps not aural-and certainly not audience-appeal...that Schoenberg.)

Schoenberg was very fond of the G minor Piano Quartet as a piece in and of itself...but not so much its performances; stating, "it is always very badly played, because the better the pianist, the louder he plays, and you hear nothing from the strings." So, in 1937, Schoenberg injected Brahms's 19th-century chamber work with 20th-century orchestral steroids! The result is a blindingly colorful example of one master paying tribute to another. He even went on to joke that in completing the orchestration, he had given Brahms no less than a "Fifth Symphony!"

If you can't tell, I've always been a huge fan of this piece, and so I've heard a lot of its recordings. This performance by the Berlin Phil and Sir Simon Rattle is as good as it gets. Be sure to listen to all four movements, if you've got the time. Enjoy! :)

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