Piano Quartet op. 25
Ed. H. Krellmann. Henle/ Novello
This is a generally thorough and workmanlike edition, cleanly engraved and sturdily bound. The sources used were (a) an autograph; (b) the engraver's copy of the string parts; and (c) a first print with the composer's own annotations. There are few textual problems. The main one (as the frontispiece facsimile well illustrates) is a mute point.
In the 9/8 Intermezzo the three string parts were originally marked col sordino. Brahms later removed the mute from viola and cello but not from the violin. What effect did he intend? To the editor the answer is obvious – ensemble as opposed to solo, with each part having an equal right to make its voice heard. But the same evidence may bear a different interpretation. The look of the autograph suggests that Brahms at first wanted it discreetly veiled string timbre from all three instruments, but later decided that only the violin should take the veil. This led to the fear that its tenderer features might pass unobserved; so he sought to restore its prominence by deleting molto before p, while retaining maim in the other two parts. In the result it seems arguable that the violin is doubly differentiated from the ensemble rather than absorbed into it.
At any rate one can agree with the editor’s sensible suggestion that the question is one for each player to decide. The translation calls this “each ensemble”. There are other slight but tiresome inaccuracies; for example “Stichvorlage” is the engraver’s copy, not “model”. and “offenbar” is stronger than “it would seem”. While we remain in Europe, such terms as these should surely be renegotiated.
The Musical Times, Jul. 1974 (p. 579) © the estate of eric sams