A sweeping romantic work for 55 dancers, the Austro-Hungarian-inflected Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet ends in an intoxicating gypsy finale.
Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet was the first abstract work Balanchine designed for the stage of the New York State Theater, which replaced the smaller City Center of Music and Drama as the home of New York City Ballet in 1964. Balanchine often said that chamber music was not suitable for large ballets, since chamber pieces typically are "too long, with too many repeats, and are meant for small rooms." Schoenberg crafted his orchestration of the Brahms G minor piano quartet in the 1930's out of a similar dissatisfaction, telling a critic that the chamber version "is always very badly played, as the better the pianist, the louder he plays, and one hears nothing of the strings." Lincoln Kirstein writes that the dances "seem steeped in the apprehension and change permeating the sunset of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. They suggest a world drunk on 'wine and roses.'"