String Sextet No 2 in G major Op.36

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Share :


Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Performance date: 05/07/2014

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1864-5

Duration: 00:39:31

Recording Engineer: Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, 2va, 2vc

Instrumentation Category:String Sextet

Artists: Andreas Brantelid - [cello]
Alban Gerhardt - [cello]
Lise Berthaud - [viola]
Lawrence Power - [viola]
Gergana Gergova - [violin]
Carolin Widmann - [violin]

love life is spelt out in his music for all to hear. In 1858 he had met and
fallen for a young singer, Agathe von Siebold, who had a haunting voice like an Amati violin. She was also
lively and intelligent and his own age, unlike Clara Schumann, who was 14 years
older than him. Clara was of course his first love but they had already decided
that marriage was impossible. Indeed she often urged him to find himself a nice
young wife but seeing him with his arm around Agathe was too much for her.
Brahms got as far as secretly exchanging rings with Agathe, but his nerve
failed him and he brutally broke off the engagement in 1859 and they never saw
each other again. The story reappears in his Magelone-Lieder and Rinaldo and,
dramatically, in the G major Sextet. His distress at this time was compounded
by the total failure of his D minor Piano Concerto at the Leipzig Gewandhaus,
where he was hissed off the stage.

Sextet has a richness of sonority matched only by the B flat Sextet and these
two works stand out like beacons amongst the comparatively small repertoire for
this combination. Brahms may have seen the six strings as an ensemble with a
less awe-inspiring history than the string quartet. He claimed to have
destroyed at least 20 string quartets before he finally published his first two
in 1873.

opening of the G major Sextet is extraordinary and immediately shows the black
areas of harmonic instability that Brahms is prepared to exploit before
launching into his big themes. The semitone oscillation across two strings of
the first viola that opens the work is present in many forms throughout the
exposition either in the foreground as at the beginning or muttering away
backstage. After the exposition repeat it becomes the obsessive subject of the
development, which concentrates on this searching in the dark rather than
either of the big themes. The first and second subjects both spawn glorious
tunes, especially the second, which quotes the AGADHE code at the climactic
moment. You cannot help wondering what Clara’s comments were.

the Scherzo Brahms reworks an idea from a neo-Baroque Gavotte that he penned in
1854, which retains both its minor key and its stylized dance character. It
gets in addition a rhythmic irregularity, which adds to the mood of uncertainty
already created by the first movement. The Trio however makes up for this with
a rumbustious
Presto giocoso with a
strong Bohemian flavour. The transition back to the Scherzo is very cleverly
manipulated so you hardly notice the moment of change. The coda is a sudden
furious outburst.

Adagio is a set of variations in E minor based on a theme given by the first
violin accompanied by only violin and viola that recalls the feeling of loss of
the opening of the first movement and bears the same Baroque tinge that we
found in the Scherzo. Brahms was of course a music scholar of immense
erudition, who studied early music from manuscript sources. The theme, which is
very short, leads without a break into the romantic sighing and pizzicato cello
of the first variation. The next variation led by the cellos also follows
without interrupting the flow, the mood now pensive and questioning. Still in
the minor key the fugal third variation takes a more strenuous approach evoking
thoughts among cellists of the E minor Sonata that was being written at the
same time. The fourth develops the subject at a livelier tempo before a smooth
and deliciously anticipatory transition to, at long last, the major key. This
is summer nights music, Brahms has exorcised his lost love and reached a moment
of pure tranquillity. The E major key is held for the coda and the movement
closes in peace.

opening idea of the Finale recalls that persistent oscillating figure of the
first movement but this time it is an element of stability giving the movement
its energy. The second half of this group is a warm and vibrant tune that
reflects the newly won contentment. Gradually the music takes on the character
of a majestic and eternal dance seemingly unconcerned with the impossible
vagaries of human emotions. But the dance cannot go on forever and the coda
tries the usual trick of accelerating into the finish, this fails so he tries
the opposite, slowing down until the music stops, which also fails, then he
recalls the roundelay theme and now the
drives to the finish.