Brahms was apparently so petrified of comparisons with Beethoven's achievements in the form that he destroyed the 20 or so string quartets he composed as a youth before finally, having turned 40, conquering his fears with the String Quartet No 1, Op 51, whose fastidious melancholy is expertly realised here.
The first section is engrossing – Schoenberg thought it revolutionary – in the way it stated the theme but also began the variations in the same movement. The Piano Quintet, Op 34, was string quintet, then piano sonata, before Brahms settled on this compromise, extending its timbral reach while retaining its intimacy.
Download this: 'String Quartet No 1, Op 51'
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