Piano Quintet in F minor

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Background Information and Performance Circumstanc

  • Composed in 1864.
  • Originally written as a string quartet but re-wrote it as a sonata for 2 pianos before finally settling on the current version.
  • Brahms was often criticised by Wolf and Wagner.
  • Preferred Classical structures such as symphony, concerto and chamber music.
  • Performers would have sometimes been amateur.
  • Technical ability here requires professionals.
  • Small concert hall would have been the ideal venue for performance. 
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Performing Forces and their Handling

  • Piano part is technically demanding - thick textured, multi-note chords (typical Brahms).
  • Bar 22: first ff piano entry features successive 6 note chords including typical octave bass line.
  • Exploits full range of instrument - low bassline tessitura (bar 53).
  • Bars 174-5: RH moves into high register when building up to a climax. 
  • Strings also use wide range.
  • Cello has repeated open string bottom Cs - lowest available note - at the beginning of Scherzo and Trio.
  • At the start of the piece, the cellist plays pizzicato.
  • Bars 18-20: 1st Violin has pizzicato double stopping.
  • Bar 157: 1st Violin rises as high as high D - 3 octaves above middle C.
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Texture

  • Variety of textures.
  • At the start, there is a pedal on the cello accompanying music in octaves in Violin 1 and viola.
  • Bar 5: Free imitation between piano and strings. 
  • Bar 22: 3rd theme (CM) is homorhythmic in style with all instruments playing the same rhythm. 
  • Bar 67: central section of scherzo in fugal style.
  • Demonstrates Brahms' interest in earlier contrapuntal styles.
  • Starts with subject in viola accompanied by 1st of 3 countersubjects in piano LH.
  • Bar 71: Answer starts in RH piano.
  • Bar 92: Music builds to 5-part structure at stretto.
  • Top line doubled by unison in 2 violins whereas 2 piano lines are frequently doubled in octaves.
  • Stretto features entries of theme coming closer together.
  • Main theme of trio uses melody-dominated homophony.
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Structure (1)

  • Scherzo and Trio structure using a large scale ternary form (ABA).
  • A - bars 1-67
  • Theme 1 - bars 1-12: syncopated tune in CM, beginning in triadic style, leading to a rising sequence.
  • Theme 2 - bars 13-21: pp march theme with a distinctive repeated note pattern.
  • Theme 3 - bars 22-37: tutti ff in CM (tonic) repeated down an octave (bar 30), piano imitating 2 beats later.
  • Theme 1 varied repeat - bars 38-56
  • Theme 2 varied repeat - bars 57-67: modulating from Gm (dominant) to Ebm (mediant).
  • B - bars 67-100
  • Fugato - bars 67-100: beginning in Ebm. Fugal section in piece. Subject in viola, based on theme 2, accompanied by simultaneous staccato countersubject in LH piano.
  • Bar 71: answer in RH piano, 2nd countersubject in LH while 1st countersubject shifts to viola.
  • Bar 80: 3rd countersubject enters in viola - 4 part counterpart. Unusual to have more than 1 countersubject.
  • Bar 92: Stretto section starts.
  • Bar 100: Music builds to climax. 
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Structure (2)

  • A varied - bars 100-193
  • Themes from A section but in different order.
  • Theme 2 - bar 110: ff in Ebm.
  • Theme 3 - bar 109: EbM (relative major).
  • Theme 1 - bar 125-158: moving from Ebm to tonic.
  • Theme 2 ff - bar 158: Cm (tonic).

The trio is cast in clear ternary form:

  • A: 193-225: Sweetly lyrical theme in CM (tonic). Repeated at bar 210, this time f with new broken chord accompaniment in piano. 
  • B: 225-241: More aggressive and contrapuntal theme with constantly shifting tonality. Violins begin in octaves.
  • A varied: 241-261: 1st Trio theme returns in tonic major with new, slightly menacing bass line which descends chromatically from Bb to F before sinking to C for 8 bars of tonic pedal. 

Scherzo then repeated to the end of the movement.

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Tonality

  • Wide ranging - typical of Romantic era.
  • Tonic key is Cm though it rarely stays in any key for long.
  • Modulates almost constantly.
  • Related keys like the dominant are used (bar 57).
  • Distant keys like Ebm are occur more often.
  • BM occurs briefly in Trio (bar 206).
  • Tonic major used frequently.
  • Pedals reinforce the key.
  • Long dominant pedal (bars 225-233).
  • Keys also established by cadences, though perfect cadences are rare. 
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Harmony

  • Chromatic harmony used frequently.
  • Chromatic F# in piano produces harsh dissonance with F natural in violin 1 and viola (bar 7).
  • Bar 5: Chord being built up is a German augmented 6th though we don't hear all the notes together.
  • Clearer versions of the same augmented 6th occur frequently (bar 36) where fragments of the 1st theme return.
  • Bar 223: 2nd beat, half diminished 7th chord - C# - E - G - B resolves to BM chord. 
  • Bar 232: diminished 7th chord. Additional dissonance due to G pedal note.
  • Bar 22: Straightforward diatonic harmony and root position chords.
  • Perfect cadences hardly exist. 
  • Frequent imperfect cadences, eg bars 12 - 13. Here, 3rd is omitted from dominant.
  • At the end of main sections, Brahms prefers a plagal cadence.
  • Bars 189-190: plagal progression includes a tierce di picardie. 
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Melody

  • 1st theme begins in broken chord style before a phrase is repeated in rising sequence. .
  • 2nd theme has a distinctive repeating note pattern.
  • Melodies are highly motivic built from small cells.
  • First phrase of the tune has 2 motifs , the 1st has 4 repeated notes; 2nd is brief semi-quaver turn-like idea rotating around G.
  • Both phrases are used extensively throughout. 
  • Sometimes motif is reduced to a smaller cell - bar 96, the first 3 notes are used and repeated.
  • Bars 99-100: at the end of this brief section, the cell is further reduced to a 2 note fragment.
  • Bars 190-192: falling minor 2nd is an important feature as a whole and is constantly repeated as at the end of the scherzo.
  • Bars 22-23: 3 notes at the start of motif B are altered to the major key and augmented from semiquavers to dotted crotchets at the beginning of the 3rd tune.
  • Chromatic passages are frequent (bars 166-169) - 1st violin moves from E to A natural.
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Rhythm and Metre

  • Duple time - varies from compound duple at the beginning to simple duple (bar 13).
  • Time signature changes a number of times to accomodate different tunes. 
  • Syncopation is immediately apparent at first note in Violin 1 and viola (bar 2) - enter on weak 6th quaver beat of the bar.
  • Distinctive march rhythm (particularly bar 13 - 2nd theme) - semiquaver rests and staccato markings add to spikey nature.
  • Off beat accents emphasised by sf markings (bars 26-28).
  • 1st countersubject in piano has continuous staccato quaver pattern (bar 67).
  • Augmentation used at the beginning of the 3rd theme (bars 22-25) where2nd theme semiquavers are replaced by dotted crotchets. 
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