Can you mix Tchaikovsky into a Brahms quintet?

Can you mix Tchaikovsky into a Brahms quintet?


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2015

It’s one of the biggest no-nos in classical music. Brahms represents form at its purest, Tchaikovsky represents raw emotion. They are polar opposites. To mix one into the other is anathema, right?

Last night at the Bristol Proms, Daniel Hope and friends played alterante movements of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Opus 111.

It worked. Better than worked, it triumphed. The applause increased after each and every alternate movement.

Somehow, the expressionism of Tchakovsky added warmth to Brahms while the meticulousness of Brahms mitigated the excesses of Tchaikovsky.

There was some entertaining chit-chat between movements about the rivalry between the composers, but the music made the best argument.





  • John Borstlap says:

    Such programme mixing is an intervention into the work as a whole. There was a reason, an artistic reason, for the composer to combine the various movements of a work in the way it was presented to the world (i.e. published). This seems to be going-back to a more primitive concert praxis when people had no idea what serious music actually is.

    NB: Tchaikovsky wrote more sophisticated things than ‘raw emotion’…. With all the expressive and often larmoyant moods, it is always written superbly fine and effective. The difference between the 2 composers is one of tradition and taste, not one of sophistication.

  • Balancement says:

    Tchaikovsky’s middle name is “Ilyich,” not “Excessive.” This pejorative characterization, especially when it comes to his chamber works, becomes exceedingly tedious after a while. Let’s try substituting something more suitable, say, “passionate,” for instance?

  • Jonathan M. Dunsby says:

    So what other relaxations were allowed ? The audience walked around, chatting and sipping beer ?

  • Roy Lisker says:

    The snob in me, a vital ingredient in all true lovers of good music, finds this to be in incredibly bad taste.

  • Niall Hoskin says:

    Yes we stood around in the pit of the theatre and took drinks in; and listened intently! The main joy of the gig was the utter commitment of Daniel Hope and his collaborators, highly gifted chamber musicians all. They were on the edge of their seats:I didn’t notice I was standing. Fascinating experiment that worked.

  • Hilary says:

    Tchaikovsky spoke ill of Brahms’s music. I doubt he would have sanctioned the project.

  • Barbara Striden says:

    I think this might have been interesting to hear on a purely academic level, although I imagine there was something arbitrary-sounding about the result. And I think pigeonholing Tchaikovsky as representing raw emotion is engaging in unfortunate stereotyping.