Johannes Brahms

String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51/1

    Description by Steven Coburn

    Brahms' attitude toward the importance of the string quartet as the ultimate expression of the composer's craft can be understood when it is considered that he reputedly sketched and destroyed some 20 quartets before creating one worthy of publication. Also, when it is considered that Haydn produced 68, Mozart 23 and Beethoven 16 quartets, Brahms' three quartets stand as a testament to his own harsh standards. The publication of the Quartets, Op. 51, then, represented for Brahms a milestone in his career similar to the publication of his First Symphony: he had taken on the masters of the past and now deemed himself worthy of comparison.

    These first two quartets were completed just before Brahms seriously embarked upon his almost exclusive engagement with orchestral works and as such represent not only a culmination of everything he had learned to this point, but as models for all that was to follow. Brahms' greatest accomplishment as a composer was his "developing variation" technique in which an entire work was generated from a single motive or group of motives. In the two quartets of Opus 51, Brahms' gives no clearer nor more pervasive an example of this technique.

    This quartet is so pervaded by the motives of the first movement, that it can be considered cyclic (a multi-movement work that uses recurring passages or themes throughout). The close tonal relationships and integrated key structure of the four movements add to the overall coherence. In the opening Allegro, a bold and rising arpeggio over a throbbing accompaniment sets the epic tone for the movement. It is in the strictest sonata form, with each subsequent theme developing and expanding logically and methodically out of the last. The Romantic character of the Romanze (Poco Adagio) movement belies its complex and highly organized structure. Its themes are all derived from the opening motive of the first movement. Third is the Allegretto molto moderato e comodo. Un poco più animato. This is a scherzo and trio in regular form. The main theme of the Scherzo, in an unusual duple rather than triple meter, is derived not from the opening of the quartet, but from the middle section of the first theme. The Trio is in Brahms' Ländler style, imitating an Austrian peasant dance. In the energetic Finale (Allegro), Brahms brought together all the motives and structural elements of the quartet. In addition, he used a section of the first movement's main theme as a recurring motto to articulate the movement's large-scale form.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro
    2. Romanze
    3. Allegretto molto - Un poco più animato
    4. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Hänssler Classic HC 16084
    2017 Praga / Praga Digitals PRD 250348
    2017 Audite AUDITE 21425
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16070
    2016 Chandos CHAN 10892
    2016 Naxos 8573433
    2016 Decca / London
    2016 Alpha ALPHA 248
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795982
    2016 CPO 7770842
    2016 Naxos 8578326-27
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646019311
    2015 Thorofon CTH 2623
    2015 Erato 551884
    2015 Bridge 9464
    2015 Cobra Records CBA 48
    2014 Azica Records PWACD 71289
    2014 Amati AMI 25011
    2014 Ar Re-Se AR 20141
    2013 MSR Classics MS 1424
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Newton Classics 8802131
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Newton / Newton Classics 8802051
    2011 Channel Classics CCSSA 30411
    2011 Decca
    2010 Longhorn / Longhorn Music 2010004
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 Harmonia Mundi 902000
    2009 Warner Classics
    2009 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099921662
    2009 EMI Classics 35711
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics 2357122
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93807
    2008 Hyperion CDA67552
    2008 Hyperion 44331/42
    2008 Harmonia Mundi 987074
    2008 Teldec 514389
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2008 Biddulph Recordings 80220
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776458
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Brilliant 93181
    2006 Archipel 0287
    2006 Praga 250227
    2006 Apex
    2006 Decca 4756525
    2006 Sony Classical Essential Classics 82876787482
    2006 Music & Arts CD1187
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 MDG 3071281
    2005 Decca
    2005 Decca 4756796
    2004 Naxos 8 557056
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 57661
    2004 Brilliant 92392
    2004 Audite 97503
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 474730
    2003 Brilliant 99800
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474358
    2003 Haenssler 98393
    2001 Vox 5179
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 569558
    2001 Cascavelle 6127
    2001 Eclectra 2054
    2001 Supraphon 3562
    2000 Chandos 8562
    2000 Parnassus Records 96007
    2000 Doremi Records 7750
    1999 Biddulph Recordings LAB165
    1999 Simax 1156
    1999 Naxos 554271
    1999 Globe Records 5164
    1999 Supraphon 3380
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 457707
    1997 Philips 456320
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 566422-2
    1997 Hyperion 22018
    1996 Philips 454 073-2PB11
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449611
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 69283
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 66285-6
    1995 Claves 509404/5
    1994 Hungaroton 11591
    1994 Telarc Distribution 80346
    1994 Denon Records 75756
    1994 Teldec 95503
    1994 CBC Records 1048
    1994 Teldec 4509-90889-2
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 54829
    1993 Kontrapunkt 32033
    1993 Hyperion 66651
    1992 Orfeo 211911
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 45686
    1992 Teldec 76998
    1990 London 425526
    Deutsche Grammophon 431650
    Supraphon 110644
    Teldec 43115
    IMP Masters 53
    Brilliant 93181/20
    Vox 9012
    Vox 8200
    Brilliant Classics 93554/15
    Brilliant 92392/12
    Brilliant 99800/6
    Adda 581222
    IMP Classics 35
    Book-of-the-Month 617031
    Brilliant Classics 93807/6