String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, 1st movement, 2nd part
In this masterclass, Günter Pichler discusses phrasing, intonation, and ensemble playing in the first movement of Brahms’ second string quartet. With the Una Corda Quartet, Pichler and his students work on listening to one another and playing accordingly. He encourages them to develop an awareness for when a member needs to take extra time so that the ensemble is always playing together. Moreover, he helps them precisely adhere to the rhythms and musical markings written in the music, and points out several areas where the intonation could be more accurate.
Overall, Pichler works with the group to elevate their understanding of the piece, unify their phrasing and inflection, and thus bring out the different characters in the music.
Having precise timing.
Choosing the right phrasing and inflection.
Listening to one another and adjusting accordingly.
Bringing out the character of the music.
Johannes Brahms finished composing both his first and second string quartets in the summer of 1873, at forty years old. It is believed that Brahms discarded as many as twenty string quartets before finally feeling satisfied enough to publish any; he was fearful of being compared to Beethoven. The second string quartet was premiered by the quartet of Brahms’ dear friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. The first movement, Allegro non troppo, frequently repeats an F-A-E motif in reference to Joachim’s personal motto, “Frei, aber einsam” (“free but lonely”). An additional F-A-F motif frequently appears, though less obviously, in Brahms’ modified response: “Frei aber froh” (“free but happy”). The movement is also characterized by contrapuntal devices such as canons, likely inspired by Brahms’ fascination with Bach, unsettled rhythms, and lyricism. The second movement, Andante moderato, is a beautifully melodic song that is briefly interrupted by a contrasting middle section that is more intense and angular in nature. In many ways, the third movement, Quasi Minuetto, moderato, evades the light-hearted dance-like qualities of a typical minuet. The opening section is in the minor mode and relaxed in tempo, feeling more like a second slow movement, while what should be the trio is reminiscent of a scherzo. The quartet concludes with Finale - Allegro non assai, which draws influence from a Hungarian czárdás (a type of folk dance). The music is once again lyrical, though still often agitated with conflicting rhythms. The movement explores a number of moods before driving to a thrilling conclusion.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this chamber class masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Günter Pichler's feedback and comments.
1st violin and founding member of the Alban Berg Quartet.
Günter Pichler was born and raised in Kufstein, Tyrol, Austria. He was accepted at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna in 1955. He joined the Vienna Symphony as concertmaster under Wolfgang Sawallisch at the age of 18. At 21, he was made concertmaster by the Vienna Philharmonic thanks to a tie-breaking vote on his appointment by conductor Herbert von Karajan.
From 1963 to 2009, he taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. From 1993 to 2012, he was a professor at Cologne University of Music. In 2007, he was appointed head of the International Institute for Chamber Music at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid.
Many of his students received international prizes, have become concertmasters in important orchestras, and/or made a name for themselves with solo careers. Moreover, among his students are String Quartets such as the Artemis, Aron, Aris, Belcea, Acies, Amaryllis, Casals, Cavaleri, Eliot, Fauré, Finzi, Notos, Minetti, Piatti, Simply, Schumann, van Kuijk, Vision, Voce and the Trio con brio, Atos, Eggner, Morgenstern, Zadig Trios.
In addition to his work with the Alban Berg Quartett and as a teacher, Günter Pichler started a career as a conductor. He has since conducted many orchestras on concerts and on tour, including the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Vienna and Israel Chamber Orchestras, the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, the Orchestra della Toscana Firenze, I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano, the Hallé Orchestra, the Orchestre nationale de Lille, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders. In Japan, he has conducted all the great symphony orchestras such as the Tokyo, Osaka, Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra and the NHK Symphony Orchestra. From 2001 to 2006, he was the principal guest conductor of the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and has since become its artistic advisor.
Born in Hamburg, Germany on May 7, 1833, Johannes Brahms was the son of musician Johann Jakob Brahms. Johannes Brahms began his musical education learning the piano, cello, and horn. From the age of 7-years-old, he studied the piano under Otto Friedrich Willibald Cossel.
Composer, pianist, and conductor, Brahms began his career at the end of the classical tradition (approx. 1730-1820) and established himself as a central figure in classical music’s Romantic era. His first concert tour took place in 1853 where he built a deep camaraderie with fellow musician, Robert Schumann.
His first major work presented to the public was Concerto No. 1 for piano and orchestra in D minor, which was performed by himself in Leipzig in 1859. In 1863, he moved to Vienna, where he was appointed conductor of Singakademie (Singing academy), which he would leave only a year later.
By 1868, Brahms achieved fame throughout Europe for the premiere of his renowned work German Requiem. Other notable works by Brahms include but are not limited to: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15, Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, op. 24, Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, op. 38 Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68, Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 78 Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98, and Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, op. 99 Quintet with Clarinet in B minor, Op. 115. Brahms has been lauded for his deep understanding of formal construction and his rendering of melodic richness, harmonic complexity, and his mastery to achieve a myriad of moods and atmosphere.
Johannes Brahms passed away on April 3,1897, in Vienna.
Photo credit: Fritz Luckhardt