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Johannes  Brahms

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Nationality: German
Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna (age 63)
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String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18

(for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos)
13:27
I. Allegro ma non troppo
9:43
II. Andante ma moderato
3:08
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio. Animato
10:20
IV. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
Duration: 37 minutes (approximately) - hide movement times
Composed: between 1859-1860 (age 26-27)
First performance: October 20, 1860. Hanover, Saal des Museums. Joachim, et. al. See IMSLP.
Published: 1861 (age 27-28), Bonn: N. Simrock
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10 recordings, 22 videos
34:23
Prazak Quartet / Zemlinsky Quartet
10:51
Berlin Philharmonic Octet
I. Allegro ma non troppo
10:14
Berlin Philharmonic Octet
II. Andante ma moderato
3:31
Berlin Philharmonic Octet
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio. Animato
9:44
Berlin Philharmonic Octet
IV. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
15:07
Dumay, et. al.
I. Allegro ma non troppo
9:24
Dumay, et. al.
II. Andante ma moderato
2:49
Dumay, et. al.
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio. Animato
10:05
Dumay, et. al.
IV. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
37:17
Esbjerg International Chamber Music Festival 2010
15:37
Kammermusiker Zürich
I. Allegro ma non troppo
10:09
Kammermusiker Zürich
II. Andante ma moderato
2:59
Kammermusiker Zürich
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio. Animato
10:51
Kammermusiker Zürich
IV. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
33:35
L'Archibudelli
15:17
Nash Ensemble
I. Allegro ma non troppo
9:43
Nash Ensemble
II. Andante ma moderato
2:57
Nash Ensemble
III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio. Animato
11:10
Nash Ensemble
IV. Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso
37:17
Osostowicz, et. al.
37:00
Stern, et. al.
42:46
Zorman, et. al.

From Kai Christiansen:

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18 (1860)

There are few string sextets in the traditional repertory beginning with Brahms and followed by Dvořák, Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg and Strauss. A few more obscure composers wrote for the ensemble before Brahms (Boccherini and Spohr) but it was this splendid youthful work that placed the string sextet in the limelight. The sextet features three pairs of instruments: two violins, two violas and two cellos, or, a string quartet plus an extra viola and cello. The additional members in the lower range are free to pursue featured melodic roles enriching the deeper voices of the ensemble, adding new contrapuntal lines and reinforcing the composite ensemble. The young Brahms struggled with string quartets (which he destroyed) and likely sought the novelty of the string sextet to explore a green field away from any daunting comparisons with Beethoven. A second sextet followed four years later preceding his eventual string quartets by nearly a decade. Both are early but masterful works highlighting the bright, warm and noble side of Brahms in the manner of a serenade.

The first movement in sonata form features no less than five separate themes that flow easily and almost seamlessly over a gentle three-four pulse like a German folk waltz. The main harmonically contrasting themes are both introduced by the cello whose deep and mellow tone gives the sextet its particular warmth with a passing melancholy due to plaintive harmonies. This longest movement in the sextet sports a brilliant and even turbulent development, but the lyrical themes along with ample, guitar-like pizzicato sparkling throughout the texture express an ardent serenade concluding with grace and delicacy.

The second movement darkens into the minor mode as the husky viola intones a Hungarian-themed lament that gravely marches through a theme and variations. The initial variations exploit tidal swells in the underlying twin cellos that accelerate the pace (through increasing subdivisions of the beat) and escalate the tension in a riveting drama recalling Schubert. The fourth glows warmly like a hymn and the fifth variation is like a music box or a hurdy-gurdy, sans celli, with a reedy viola solo, ethereal violins and a drone effect. The final variation is a kind of shortened coda that vividly recalls the opening lament, a magic palette alla Schubert and a touch of hope at the end.

The third movement is a brief, lively scherzo that starts out rather poised, stutters with syncopation, begins to sway and swirl, then races through an animated trio. While the scherzo form returns to the beginning, Brahms can't resist the breathless trio reprising it briefly in a coda.

The finale is an elaborate rondo-sonata hybrid that recalls the genial grace of the first movement along with its thematic riches and yet another evocation of Schubert. The first cello again introduces the theme and, here, Brahms plays with his generous ensemble by dividing it into trios, the cellos in one, and the violins in the other creating an interactive "antiphony" between low and high. Towards the end, he has the dueling trios alternate measure by measure, reprising the rondo refrain in a clipped call and response of sparse and delicate textures. In between are rich contrasting episodes, sonata-like developments, fluid variations and refined swatches of the Baroque and the Rococo in passing. A brief feint of sorrow precedes a sparkling accelerando dash to the end: an extended, enthusiastic cadence celebrating the victory of Brahms's first triumph of purely string chamber music.

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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