Brahms, Brahms and Brahms

2nd June 2012 | Concerts, Travel | 4 comments

I don’t think I’ve ever played and listened to so much Brahms as I have this week. The Orion Quartet and I have now done three Brahms concerts this week in Oxford and London, and there’s another tonight in King’s Place. Every programme has been a mix of Brahms string quartets and piano quartets or quintet. We’ve agreed that while most of the music is superb, there are parts where Brahms could have wielded the editor’s pencil a bit more severely.

I always enjoy the chance to be back in a university setting, and St John’s College in Oxford is quite a special experience. Its architecture is an intriguing blend of the very old and the very new. The new part includes a small concert hall, which was full for our concert. Not full of students, alas, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that by now. It always seems to be the same when I go to play in a university concert series. This is exam time, of course, but in fact it doesn’t seem to make much difference when in the year the concert is.

When I think back to my student days, I was probably just as neglectful. I went to so many concerts given by my student friends, and played in so many myself, that I had little time to take in what was on offer from visiting musicians. I feel silly now when I think back on it, because lots of these ‘maestro’ concerts were free, as ours was in Oxford. Anyway, our audience in St John’s was almost entirely made up of visitors from outside the college. With the insertion of a leisurely interval, it was one of the longest concerts I’ve been involved in for a while. It started at 8.30pm with two string quartets, and the A major piano quartet didn’t even begin until 10.15pm. We came off stage at about 11.05!


  1. James B

    Hmmmm, a tantalizing snippet… but which bits would you cut out? 11:05 is still early though, I’d have demanded an encore!

  2. Matty

    I too would be curious to know which bits of Brahms’ chamber music you’re less than thrilled by!

    • Susan Tomes

      Well, it’s hard to be specific, but sometimes in his longer, more rambling works (such as the A major piano quartet) there are passages where I feel he’s dutifully making himself follow a musical motif through various sequences until it has run out of steam, and shouldn’t have been worked quite so hard. It’s a small point in the overall context of his chamber works, which I love.

  3. peter

    I’ve always found Brahms to be the musical equivalent of novelist Henry James — long-winded and verbose. In the words of Clover Adams, Henry Adams’ wife, describing James, he usually chews over more than he can bite.


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