Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet was the first abstract work Balanchine designed for the stage of the New York State Theater, which replaced the smaller City Center of Music and Drama as the home of New York City Ballet in 1964.
Balanchine often said that chamber music was not suitable for large ballets, since chamber pieces typically are “too long, with too many repeats, and are meant for small rooms.” Schoenberg crafted his orchestration of the Brahms G minor piano quartet in the 1930’s out of a similar dissatisfaction, telling a critic that the chamber version “is always very badly played, as the better the pianist, the louder he plays, and one hears nothing of the strings.”
Lincoln Kirstein writes that the dances “seem steeped in the apprehension and change permeating the sunset of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. They suggest a world drunk on wine and roses.'”
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was born in Hamburg, Germany, and became popular as a pianist and conductor. Though living in the days of the romantic composers, his own work was always in the classical mold. He composed almost exclusively instrumental music, including four symphonies, concertos, and a wide variety of chamber music.
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), was born in Vienna, Austria, and was initially greatly influenced by the work of Wagner. Subsequently he developed an entirely new mode of composition, based on the twelve-tone scale and the tone row. Schoenberg made his living as a teacher (his pupils included both Webern and Berg) and as a conductor of theater orchestras. He fled the Nazi regime and came to the United States, where he taught music at UCLA. He was also a noted painter of the Expressionist School.