Johannes Brahms composed pieces which established the standard for the composition of piano quartets, which were not a popular form in the 19th century. No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, and No. 2 in A major, Op. 26, were composed in 1861 and 1862, and No. 3 in C minor was begun in 1855 but not completed until 20 years later when it was published as Op. 60. Brahms had begun sketching the piece during a difficult time for him and his close friends the Schumann’s. Robert had been confined to an asylum for mental illness and Brahms was living with Clara and her children in an attempt to provide moral support. Despite this angst, however the C minor Piano Quartet is one of Brahms’ finest achievements. Brahms accredited the brooding quality of the composition to Goethe’s Romantic hero of unrequited love who eventually commits suicide, but it has become widely accepted that Brahms entanglement with his growing feelings for Clara amid the tragedy that had befallen Robert is the truer inspiration. Brahms wrote to his publisher, “On the cover you must have a picture, namely a head with a pistol to it. Now you can form some conception of the music! I’ll send you my photograph for the purpose.” The two prevailing compositional themes in the quartet are the sigh figure and the octave, with the sigh contriving gloom and expression and the octave providing power and drama.
Robert Schumann delved head first into chamber writing in the year 1842. He completed the three string quartets of Op. 41 in two months during the summer, the Piano Quintet in E-flat, Op. 44, during the next six weeks, and the Piano Quartet, Op. 47 in the autumn. The piano parts for all these works were written for his wife Clara, who was one of Europe's leading solo pianists at the time, and he dedicated the quintet to her. Clara herself performed the piano part, joined by the Gewandhaus Quartet, for the premiere public performance of the quintet, on January 8, 1843, at the Gewandhaus.
Richard Aldrich wrote in 1929’s Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, “Schumann’s chamber music of 1842 is in many ways among the most perfect of all the products of his genius; the purest and most powerful in its beauty, the strongest in its form, best balanced in its substance, and best adapted in its technical means and processes to the expression of the composer’s thought. There is little that seems tentative, experimental, or uncertain in touch. He entered, to all appearances, full-fledged and confident upon the difficult and problematic art of chamber music.”
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator