About this Recording
8.550436 - BRAHMS: String Sextets Nos. 1 and 2

Johannes Brahms(1833-1897)
String Sextet No.1 in B Flat Major, Op. 18
String Sextet No.2 in G Major, Op. 36

It was not until 1863 that Brahms moved to Vienna, the city where Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven had settled and where Schubert had been born. He was born in 1833 in Hamburg, son of a double bass player, who had married a woman several years his senior. As a child Johannes Brahms showed particular promise and through the generosity of his teachers was able to develop his gifts as a composer and as a pianist to a point where he made a strong impression on the impressionable Schumann, whom he visited in 1853, through the agency of the young violinist Joseph Joachim, who had proved less successful in his introduction of Brahms to Liszt in Weimar. As he developed, Brahms grew to represent the school of pure or abstract music as opposed to the new music of Liszt and Wagner, who saw the future in very different and less traditional terms.

Schumann's final break-down and death in 1856 involved Brahms in an even closer connection with Clara Schumann, one of the leading pianists of the day. While of obvious practical assistance to her during the period of her husband's illness and after his death, he maintained a mutually protective relationship with her until her death in 1896. His earlier career involved him in seasonal employment at the small court of Detmold and in work in Hamburg, where he always hoped for proper recognition, accorded him only when it was too late. Vienna, however, proved much more welcoming and there were many there who, like Schumann, saw in him a successor to Beethoven, a judgement that infuriated Wagner, who regarded himself as the only proper heir.

The first of the two String Sextets of Brahms, scored for two violins, two violas and two cellos, was completed in 1860, soon after his departure from Detmold for Hamburg. It was among the first group of works to be published by Simrock and is contemporary with the two serenades that he had written for Detmold. The use of a sextet rather than the stricter string quartet allowed the composer greater freedom, in particular in his handling of the first cello, freed, when occasion demanded, from playing a bass part and allowed the first theme of the opening movement. The slow movement is a series of variations, a form of which Brahms was to show particular mastery. The D minor theme is played first by the lower instruments, providing that sonority that characterizes much of the composer's work. Variations succeed each other with notes of increasing rapidity. There is a strongly expressive major fourth variation, subtle use of the two violas in the fifth and a sixth that summarises the movement. The energetic Scherzo and its dance-like Trio leads to and a final Rondo that suggests the spirit of Schubert and Vienna.

Brahms wrote the greater part of his second String Sextet during the summer of 1864, when he visited Clara Schumann and her family at Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden, himself staying in the house of Anton Rubinstein and mixing in a company of the greatest distinction. The work was completed the following May. It is in the key of G major, to which shifting tonalities add some ambiguity in the first movement, which has a second subject of particular beauty. The second movement is a gentle Scherzo, derived in part from a dance movement for piano written some ten years earlier, contrasted with a Trio of almost Bohemian vigour. The slow movement is again a set of variations, once more using a theme of Baroque character, this time in the relative minor key, E minor. The five variations lead to a coda in E major and are succeeded by a final movement, a form of rondo that allows the intervening repetition of an opening motto theme between the sections of a tripartite, sonata-form movement. If the first of the two sextets looks back to Detmold and the serenades, the second looks forward to the symphonies that Schumann had seemed to detect when Brahms first played to him.

Stuttgart Soloists
Albert Boesen / Horst Neumann, Violins
Enrique Santiago / Michael Meyer-Rejnhard, Violas
Rudolf Gleissner / Gottfried Hahn, Cellos

The Stuttgart Soloists has won wide praise for their work in the quintets of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner and in the quintets and sextets of Brahms, Dvorak and Schoenberg. The Sextet has given performances in Germany and abroad, throughout Europe, in Africa and in Asia. Their earlier recordings, starting with an issue of the Schubert C major Quintet in 1978, have won high critical acclaim.

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