Brahms is the shadow looming over the three-movement Quintet in C minor for piano, violin, viola, cello and doublebass, the same instruments required for Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet. Vaughan Williams completed it in October 1903, revised it in August 1904 and again in September 1905, which indicates that he followed Holst’s advice about rewriting. The first performance was at the Aeolian Hall, London, on 14 December 1905. A performance has been traced as late as June 1918 but the axe then fell until the performance in November 1999 at the Royal College of Music. During his work on editing the score, Bernard Benoliel concluded that at one point Vaughan Williams must have performed it using a string band instead of single strings. The big Brahmsian gestures of the first movement certainly invite orchestral treatment. In the Andante, Benoliel detected the mood of the slow movement of Parry’s Fourth Symphony. The expressive romantic melody of the Andante is certainly what Parry would have called characteristic of its composer, all the more because it resembles the song Silent Noon
, composed in the same year. The finale is a theme with five variations. Vaughan Williams returned to the theme fifty years later in 1954 when he used it, slightly enlarged, as the theme for the variations finale of his violin sonata. The finale of the Quintet ends quietly.
from notes by Michael Kennedy © 2002