Janine Jansen (violin), Timothy Ridout (Viola), Daniel Blendulf (Cello), and Denis Kozhukhin (piano) perform Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60. This performance was recorded during the Opening concert of the Internationaal Kamermuziek Festival Utrecht (International Chamber Music Festival) on December 27, 2023, at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht.

Janine Jansen (violin), Timothy Ridout (Viola), Daniel Blendulf (Cello), and Denis Kozhukhin (piano) perform Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60. This performance was recorded during the Opening concert of the Internationaal Kamermuziek Festival Utrecht (International Chamber Music Festival) on December 27, 2023, at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht.

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3

Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3, also known as the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60, is a significant work in the chamber music repertoire. Composed during a period that spanned several years, this quartet reflects a complex emotional landscape, often attributed to Brahms’ own life experiences and his unrequited love for Clara Schumann, the wife of his mentor and friend, Robert Schumann.

Brahms began working on this quartet in the 1850s but completed it in the 1870s. This long gestation period is indicative of the composer’s meticulous nature and his tendency to revise his works extensively before considering them finished. The Quartet in C minor is often seen as one of the most personal and introspective of Brahms’ compositions, revealing a depth of emotion and a richness of musical ideas.

Musically, the Quartet Op. 60 is known for its dramatic intensity and the intricate interplay between the piano and the strings (violin, viola, and cello). Brahms, a master of counterpoint and thematic development, weaves a dense and complex musical texture in this work. The quartet is characterized by its passionate themes, dramatic contrasts, and the emotional depth that Brahms is known for. The C minor key further adds to the somber and introspective mood of the piece.

One of the striking aspects of this quartet is Brahms’ ability to balance the piano with the string instruments, creating a dialogue where each instrument has a distinct voice yet contributes to the overall coherence of the ensemble. The piano part is both challenging and expressive, demanding a high level of technical skill and interpretative insight from the performer.

The Piano Quartet No. 3 is also notable for the way Brahms blends classical forms with his own innovative approaches to harmony and rhythm. While firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition, the work hints at Brahms’ respect for classical structure, as seen in his admiration for composers like Beethoven and Schubert.

The quartet was well-received at its premiere and continues to be admired for its depth, beauty, and technical brilliance. It remains a staple in the chamber music repertoire, frequently performed and recorded by leading musicians, and is celebrated for its emotional intensity and its reflection of Brahms’ unique position between the classical and Romantic periods in music.


1. Allegro non troppo (C minor)

The first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, is marked as “Allegro non troppo.” This movement, like the rest of the quartet, is rich in emotional depth and complexity, reflecting Brahms’ mastery of musical expression and structure.

The “Allegro non troppo” opens with a sense of brooding intensity, setting the tone for the movement. The initial theme is introduced by the piano, followed by the strings, and is characterized by its dramatic and somber quality. This theme is a key element of the movement and undergoes various transformations as the movement progresses.

Brahms employs his signature use of developing variation in this movement, a technique where themes are continuously developed and altered rather than presented straightforwardly. This results in a constantly evolving musical landscape, keeping the listener engaged with new textures and harmonies. The interaction between the piano and the string instruments is a critical feature of this movement, with Brahms skillfully weaving the individual lines into a cohesive and compelling whole.

The mood of the movement oscillates between the initial intensity and more lyrical, introspective passages, showcasing Brahms’ ability to convey a wide range of emotions within a single composition. The movement is structured in a loose sonata form, with a clear development section where Brahms explores and expands upon the themes introduced in the exposition.

The development section of this movement is particularly notable for its complexity and the ingenious way Brahms manipulates the thematic material. This section builds in intensity, leading to a dramatic climax before transitioning into the recapitulation. In the recapitulation, the return of the main theme is altered and enriched by their journey through the development section.

The movement concludes with a coda that revisits the main themes, bringing the movement to a powerful and emotionally charged close. The first movement of the Piano Quartet No. 3 is a testament to Brahms’ skill as a composer, his ability to blend emotional depth with structural complexity, and his unique voice in the realm of chamber music.

2. Scherzo: Allegro (C minor -> C major)

The second movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, is a contrast to the first, showcasing Brahms’ versatility and depth as a composer. This movement is marked “Scherzo: Allegro,” and it serves as a vivid and energetic interlude between the more somber and introspective outer movements of the quartet.

In traditional classical music, a scherzo is a light, fast-moving piece, typically the third movement in a four-movement work. However, Brahms places his scherzo second, which is a departure from the norm. This placement contributes to the unique structure and flow of the quartet as a whole.

The Scherzo in Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 is characterized by its rhythmic vitality and drive. It opens with a robust and lively theme that immediately captures the listener’s attention. This theme is full of energy and forward momentum, propelled by a rhythmic urgency that is both engaging and invigorating.

Brahms, known for his ability to blend classical forms with his own innovative ideas, crafts this scherzo with a keen sense of balance and contrast. The main theme of the Scherzo is concise and rhythmically distinct, making it easily recognizable as it is passed around and developed by the different instruments. The interplay between the piano and the strings is particularly noteworthy, as Brahms expertly navigates the textures and timbres of the ensemble.

In the middle of the Scherzo, there is typically a contrasting section known as the trio. Brahms’ trio section in this movement provides a contrast to the energetic main theme. It usually offers a more lyrical and subdued moment, allowing for a brief respite from the vigorous energy of the Scherzo. This trio section often features a change in key and mood, highlighting Brahms’ skill in thematic development and contrast.

After the trio, the Scherzo’s main theme usually returns, bringing back the movement’s initial energy and drive. The movement concludes with a recapitulation of this theme, often leading to an exciting and dynamic finish.

3. Andante (E major)

The third movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, is a distinct shift in mood and character from the preceding movements. Marked as “Andante,” this movement is characterized by its lyrical beauty, emotional depth, and expressive melodies.

In this movement, Brahms explores a more introspective and tender side of his musical language. The Andante opens with a gentle, flowing melody that is both reflective and poignant. This melody, usually introduced by the strings and then taken up by the piano, sets the tone for the entire movement. It is notable for its song-like quality, showcasing Brahms’ talent for writing melodies that are both simple in their beauty and complex in their emotional resonance.

The texture of this movement is rich yet transparent, with each instrument playing a crucial role in weaving the intricate musical tapestry. The interplay between the piano and the strings is more subdued and collaborative here, compared to the energetic exchanges in the previous movements. Brahms uses the contrasting timbres of the strings and piano to create a dialogue that is both intimate and expressive.

As the movement progresses, the main melody undergoes subtle variations and developments. Brahms demonstrates his skill in thematic development, as he takes the initial melody and explores its different facets, sometimes expanding it, other times condensing it, but always maintaining its core emotional character.

The mood of the Andante is one of contemplation and gentle melancholy, with moments of serene beauty interspersed with more passionate outbursts. Brahms masterfully balances these shifts in emotion, creating a movement that is cohesive and deeply moving.

The Andante concludes with a return to the opening melody, bringing the movement to a peaceful and introspective close. This return to the beginning serves as a reminder of the movement’s central themes and provides a sense of closure to the emotional journey that Brahms has taken the listener on.

4. Finale: Allegro comodo (C minor -> C major)

The fourth movement of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, is a compelling and dramatic finale to the entire work. Marked as “Finale: Allegro comodo,” this movement stands out for its robust energy, intricate structure, and the emotional intensity that Brahms masterfully weaves throughout.

In this finale, Brahms returns to a more vigorous and dynamic style, akin to the mood of the first movement but with an added sense of urgency and resolution. The movement begins with a bold and assertive theme that sets the stage for the complex musical dialogue to follow. This theme is characterized by its rhythmic drive and the dramatic interplay between the piano and strings.

Brahms’ use of counterpoint and thematic development is particularly evident in this movement. He takes the initial themes and subjects them to a series of variations and transformations, showcasing his ability to create a rich tapestry of sound while maintaining a clear structural coherence. The movement is replete with contrapuntal passages, where the intertwining melodies and harmonies create a sense of depth and complexity.

The mood of the Finale fluctuates between the assertive opening material and more lyrical, introspective episodes. These contrasting sections provide a sense of balance and tension within the movement, as Brahms explores a range of emotions and musical ideas.

One of the notable features of this movement is its culminating effect. As the Finale progresses, there is a sense of gathering momentum, leading to a climactic conclusion. Brahms builds this climax through a series of escalating passages, each adding to the sense of anticipation and excitement.

The conclusion of the movement, and thus the quartet, is both powerful and satisfying. Brahms brings back the key themes for a final statement, resolving the tensions and themes introduced earlier in the piece. This resolution is not just musical but also emotional, as the listener is taken on a journey through the various moods and colors of the quartet, culminating in a finale that is both exhilarating and conclusive.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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