The following is a lecture I have given preceding a performance of my reconstruction of Brahms Op 34 for the original scoring for two violins, viola and two cellos. Score and parts of this reconstruction are available directly from me.

The history of Brahms Op34 is quite well documented. To cover it briefly, Brahms wrote a string quintet in F min, with a second cello rather than a 2nd viola in 1862 . It was played through by, among others, Joachim, and heard by Brahms great friend & critic Clara Schumann. Joachim felt that the work lacked tonal variety, and offered some suggestions which Brahms apparently incorporated. Clara was full of praise for the musical material, but told Brahms that she didn't feel the medium he had chosen had sufficient strength to carry the weight of the material, and urged him to recast it as a sonata for 2 pianos. This he did, and Brahms & Clara performed it in this form several times. Clara was much happier with this version, but on reflection felt that Brahms could do still better, and urged him to recast it once again. Ever obedient to Claras wishes, he did, and the result was the piano quintet which Clara professed herself perfectly happy with. This, and the 2 piano version were then published, and the original stg 5tet version destroyed by Brahms, as was his habit with anything he was not completely happy with.

There are of course a number of questions raised by these events, among them, what was the basis of Claras criticisms of the stg 5tet, and why did Brahms destroy this version and not the 2 piano version.. The 2nd question is perhaps more easily answered. A 4 hand piano version of the work would have been inevitable. A huge part of Bs output, which has remained almost completely unknown, is the four hand versions that he made of almost all his chamber music, as well as the two orchestral serenades, and the 3rd & 4th symphonies.The German requiem was also given an early performance in London with the orchestra reduced for 4 hands. Brahms did not see these piano versions as mere arrangements, but worked on them simultaneously with the fully scored version. Thus Joachim, after receiving Brahms new Bflat sextet wrote to Brahms to tell him how marvellous he thought it, & commented also on how well the 4 hand version sounded. Brahms had sent them both to him at the same time. Another likely reason for Brahms to make these piano versions was to avoid a publishers hack doing the work. It was normal practice for orchestral, & often chamber works to be issued in piano arrangements. This enabled people with limited access to concert life to get to know the works, and also brought in more money for the publisher.
Brahms 4 hand versions were of course a mile away from these literal transcriptions. By producing the piano version himself, Brahms had the freedom to reinvent the works as he went, or to try out different versions in places. One reason that they have perhaps not become better known is that he did not want his name to appear on the scores as the 'arranger', as he did not in fact see them as that. This lead people to assume perhaps that the piano versions had been made by someone else. In my opinion some of the 4 hand versions are more successful than the string versions - the C min stg qtet and the G maj stg qntet in particular acquire almost symphonic proportions due to the additional range & power available to two pianists. The sustaining power of the strings will obviously be missed in certain passages, and the fmin 5tet is a particular case in point. The opening of the slow movement is so obviously conceived in terms of string sonority and sustaining power, and yet even when Brahms restored the strings to the work in the 3rd version, he left this wonderful tune on the piano. The same is true of the introduction to the fourth mvt, where the piano is surely completely out of place.

The case of the f min5tet is slightly different to the rest of Brahms chamber music in terms of the 4 hand version, in that he used 2 pianos rather than one, gave it a separate op no - 34b - instead of simply publishing it under the same op no, and that he called it a sonata. All the other pieces were published under the same name as the full version, 4tet,5tet In fact the piano version, although being regularly performed, was not published until several years after the piano 5tet.

So given that Brahms would eventually have produced a piano version of Op 34, why did he rescore the work as a piano quintet ? It could simply be that Clara saw the possibility of a major Brahms work as a vehicle for her own performances. Works for piano & stgs were still very much regarded as piano pieces at this time . She knew that she had considerable power over Brahms, and could have felt it was worth trying to get Brahms to recast what was obviously one of his greatest works into a form in which she could not only play, but also be the sole pianist. We will never of course know whether her criticisms of the original were justified or not

The precedents for both scorings are fairly obvious. Schubert, in the case of the Stg 5tet, whose own effort had been published only in 1853, & Robert Schumann for the piano 5tet. Roberts work was published in 1842. Brahms was known to be rather inhibited by composers & works that he admired. He came very late to the symphony and the stg4tet because of the shadow of Beethoven. He could equally have been made uneasy by Schuberts masterly 5tet & felt less threatened by R>Ss piano 5tet, as he knew the composer personally.

Whatever the true reasons for the rescoring, it was completely characteristic of Brahms to destroy the original string version if he thought it was in any way inadequate. By this stage of his life he had already destroyed several stg 4tets, and was to destroy more before he was eventually satisfied. He had destroyed a sonata for two pianos, some of who's material found its way into the 1st piano concerto & the German Requiem, and a number of piano & violin sonatas, another form which he was only to feel sure of quite late in his composing career. And these are only the works we know about. One escapee form this destruction has in fact come to light recently - a piano trio in A which survived in a copy that B was probably unaware of. It is in fact not vintage Brahms, but contains music of great beauty and as a whole is a work that many lesser composers would have been been more than happy with.

So this brings me to the reconstruction of the string 5tet version of Op 34. It started simply as a whim - a curiosity for myself to see what the work might have looked like in the original scoring. I had just thought to do the first page or so, but as I got further in, and what I thought looked like some fascinating and beautiful textures began to emerge, I became hooked, and in 3 months had done the entire work. Op 34 had always been a bit of a worry to me. As a pianist, and as a great lover of Brahms, I knew that I ought to like the piece more than I did, in both versions. However the prospect of listening to a performance of the work always filled me with a slight sense of unease, and it's now apparent to me that the piano was the problem all along. One of the clearest differences between Op 34 & Brahms other works for piano & stgs seems to me to be the lack of tonal variety in Op34 - the criticism originally levelled by Joachim at the stg version. In both his 4tets & trios Brahms uses the instruments with what seems to me to be much more variety and imagination. In the 5tet, nearly all the instruments are playing nearly all the time. The two opposing bodies - the piano & the strings, are never really used in oppositions to each other as they might be, and the various members of the stg 4tet are rarely heard in less than full ensemble. It seems to me that with the piano removed from the texture, these problems disappear.

Having two versions to compare of course made the task much easier. A problem posed in one was often solved by reference to the other. Textually the 2 versions are practically identical, apart from one repeated bar which is eliminated in the 5tet, and I took this fact to suggest that the final version of the stg 5tet would also have been very close to the later two. I wanted very much to avoid any arbitrary changes to Brahms texture, and as I went this sometimes resulted in some quite awkward & uncharacteristic string writing. However looking at Brahms other string chamber music revealed many equally awkward passages, particularly in the bflt 6tet, where one would have thought enough instruments were available, the 1st violin is given some very high & ungainly double or triple stopping. This reassured me & I carried on as the text seemed to demand. To take one example of this from the last movement, the passage I'm going to demonstrate could have been rescored without the triplet quavers being doubled, leaving the viola to fill out the upper chords. Or the chords could simply have been thinned in texture. Reproducing the existing texture is, however possible, if a little ungrateful to play, and my preference was usually to go for this option. One exception was in the scherzo, where the piano plays the rising arpeggio figure in block chords. This is possible to do with the 2 violins but on hearing it it became obvious that this passage should be scored as previous passages in this movement, in bare octaves.

The same problem occurs at the beginning of the first movement. The semiq figure in both versions is in octaves, which in the string version would leave only three insts to play the block chds against it. Again rather than slimming down a very typical Bramhsian texture I opted for a direct transcription involving multiple double stopping.

In general I found the 5 part writing quite clearly visible throughout most of the work in both versions. B of course made use of all the various permutations available to this unique scoring, sometimes dividing the two cellos from the 3 upper strings, or having pairs of violins & cellos surrounding the viola - here's one passage that demonstrates both those aspects, or pitting the first violin & 1st cello almost as soloists against the remaining stg trio. All of these subtleties of scoring are of course completely lost in the piano version, many also in the piano 5tet version.. Passage's for the two cellos which are transferred to the left hand of the piano & the cello are also considerably less effective than in the string version.

The slow mvt is a case where the obvious solution is not always the correct one. I heard a very distinguished Brahms scholar speaking on Radio 3 quite recently, saying how marvellous the opening of this mvt must have been on two cellos in the original scoring. This solution does not bear much scrutiny, as who would then play the bass notes? The Violins would be in the same range as the cellos, & not weighty enough to balance them, & that for Brahms would not have been an option. So 2nd cello in the bass, 1st cello on the tune with viola playing the lower line? A few bars into the piece, the second line goes down to a bflt, rendering it impossible for the viola, so the only solution is for the viola to play the top line.  It would also be possible for the 1st violin to play it but this would of course rob Bra of the tonal contrast achieved when the theme comes back later in the mvt.
One of the highlights for me of this movement is the marvellous passage of suspensions in the coda which seems to me to be rendered much more powerfully with the purity of strings alone.

The scherzo was relatively straightforward, and the five part fugal writing is perhaps one of the clearest indications of the works origin - again I believe, rendered much more satisfactorily by stgs alone . One concern I had with this movement was whether strings alone would be able to provide the power required . This lead me to some fairly extravagant outbursts of double stopping, but, again, on hearing it, it was apparent that a thinned out version was both more powerful and more effective. Some double stopping was unavoidable however, especially in the final section where the viola & 2 cellos are pitted against the 2 violins. The opening of the trio is again much more effective on stgs, Its sometimes as if Brahms felt he had to give the piano something important to do as it was there.

The opening of the last movement of course cries out for the 2nd cello. The piano simply does not belong in the string texture, and in the 2 piano version, while it has the required homogeneity of sound, does not have the sostenuto character that is obviously required. One passage which does work better in the piano 5tet version is the following where B introduces an almost antiphonal effect This is easily produced by having the piano & stgd in opposition, or the 2 pianos. With stgs alone it is only possible to set high against low, and the relatively thick textures required some particularly awkward double stopping.     Another feature of many of Brahms stg works is that the bass line will often go off the bottom of the cello, & have to be taken up the octave again . This is obviously solved by the range of the piano. A number of passages transferred rather awkwardly to the piano, the following, while not easy for the strings, is one of the most uncharacteristic passages of keyboard writing in Brahms output.

Finally, a reconstruction like this can never hope to be authoritative but it can perhaps shed a new light on a great work in that it can reveal to some extent Bs original conception, & I hope you'll enjoy the masterly performance that we'll undoubtedly be hearing tonight.