Brahms – Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 34
The Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms was completed during the summer of 1864 and published in 1865. It was dedicated to Her Royal Highness Princess Anna of Hesse. Like most piano quintets composed after Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet (1842), it is written for piano and string quartet (two violins, viola and cello).
The work, “often called the crown of his chamber music,” began life as a string quintet (completed in 1862 and scored for two violins, viola and two cellos). Brahms transcribed the quintet into a sonata for two pianos (in which form Brahms and Carl Tausig performed it) before giving it its final form. Brahms destroyed the original version for string quintet, but published the Sonata as Op. 34b. The outer movements are more adventurous than usual in terms of harmony and are unsettling in effect. The introduction to the finale, with its rising figure in semitones, is especially remarkable. Piano and strings play an equally important role throughout this work, which Swafford notes for its “unity of expression” and a consistently dark mood: “at times anguished, at times (in the scherzo) demonic, at times tragic.”