The first time Clara had encountered the work in the autumn of 1862, it had been in the form of a quintet for two violins, viola and two cellos. She wrote, “What inner strength, what richness…how beautifully written for the instruments.” But when Brahms sent the score to Joseph Joachim, he had some reservations. Although he called it a work “of the greatest significance, full of masculine strength and sweeping design,” he suggested that it “lacked charm and sounded artificial in spots.”
Following Clara’s advice, Brahms transformed the work again. In fact, it was Hermann Levi who suggested that Brahms should recast the work as a piano quintet. A hybrid of his two earlier versions, Brahms combines youthful exuberance and sophisticated musical textures with an entirely logical way of constructing motives and controlling their subsequent development and continuation. When Levi heard the work in its latest guise he wrote to Brahms on 5 November 1865, “The quintet is beautiful beyond measure; no one who didn’t know it in its earlier forms—string quintet and sonata—would believe that it was conceived and written for other instruments. Not a single note gives me the impression of an arrangement: all the ideas have a much more succinct color. Out of the monotony of the two pianos a model of tonal beauty has arisen; out of a piano duo accessible to only a few musicians, a restorative for every music-lover—a masterpiece of chamber music.”
Johannes Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34
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