A sweeping romantic work for 55 dancers, the Austro-Hungarian-inflected Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet ends in an intoxicating finale.
Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25 (1861) marked a new development in chamber music. Though it received mixed reviews at the time of its premiere, it proved to be deeply influential for a number of 20th-century composers, laying the groundwork for atonality. Among the work’s admirers was Brahms’ great Viennese successor, Arnold Schoenberg, who in 1937 arranged the quartet for orchestra. In a letter to Dr. Alfred Frankenstein, the distinguished critic and musicologist of the San Francisco Chronicle, Schoenberg gives his reasons for this somewhat surprising undertaking: “1. I love the piece. 2. It is seldom played. 3. It is always very badly played, as the better the pianist, the louder he plays, and one hears nothing of the strings. I wanted for once to hear everything, and this I have achieved.” Balanchine often visited Stravinsky in Hollywood, and the composer would make suggestions of unfamiliar scores that might be suitable for ballet. In 1957, he played Balanchine a version of the Gounod Symphony, which the choreographer set the following year. In 1964, similarly, came the suggestion of Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’ quartet, and Balanchine premiered the ballet in 1966, two years after NYCB’s move from City Center to the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.