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BRAHMS: Four-Hand Piano Music, Vol. 13


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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Four Hand Piano Music, Vol. 13


String Sextets, Nos. 1 and 2


Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833, the sonof a double-bass player and his much older wife, aseamstress. His childhood was spent in relative poverty,and his early studies in music, as a pianist rather than asa string-player, developed his talent to such an extentthat there was talk of touring as a prodigy at the age ofeleven. It was Eduard Marxsen who gave him agrounding in the technical basis of composition, whilethe boy helped his family by playing the piano toentertain visitors to summer inns.

In 1851 Brahms met the emigre Hungarian violinistRemenyi, who introduced him to Hungarian dancemusic that had a later influence on his work. Two yearslater he set out in his company on his first concert tour,their journey taking them, on the recommendation of theHungarian violinist Joachim, to Weimar, where FranzLiszt held court and might have been expected to showparticular favour to a fellow-countryman. Remenyiprofited from the visit, but Brahms, with a lack of tactthat was later accentuated, failed to impress the Master.

Later in the year, however, he met the Schumanns,through Joachim's agency. The meeting was a fruitfulone.

In 1850 Schumann had taken up the offer from theprevious incumbent, Ferdinand Hiller, of the position ofmunicipal director of music in D??sseldorf, the firstofficial appointment of his career and the last. Now inthe music of Brahms he detected a promise of greatnessand published his views in the journal he had onceedited, the Neue Zeitschrift f??r Musik, declaring Brahmsthe long-awaited successor to Beethoven. In thefollowing year Schumann, who had long suffered fromintermittent periods of intense depression, attemptedsuicide. His final years, until his death in 1856, were tobe spent in an asylum, while Brahms rallied to thesupport of Schumann's wife, the gifted pianist ClaraSchumann, and her young family, remaining a firmfriend until her death in 1896, shortly before his own inthe following year.

Brahms had always hoped that sooner or later hewould be able to return in triumph to a position ofdistinction in the musical life of Hamburg. Thisambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled inVienna, intermittently from 1863 and definitively in1869, establishing himself there and seeming to many tofulfil Schumann's early prophecy. In him his supporters,including, above all, the distinguished critic and writerEduard Hanslick, saw a true successor to Beethoven anda champion of music untrammelled by extra-musicalassociations, of pure music, as opposed to the Music ofthe Future promoted by Wagner and Liszt, a path towhich Joachim and Brahms both later publiclyexpressed their opposition.

In 1857 Brahms had accepted an invitation to visitthe court of Detmold. Clara Schumann had been givinglessons there to Princess Frederike, but after the death ofRobert Schumann she had handed over herresponsibilities to Brahms. In Detmold he was offeredemployment for three months as pianist and chorusconductor, an offer he gladly accepted, returning there inthe autumn of 1858 and 1859, but thereafter preferringto devote his time to composition in Hamburg withoutthe limitations and distractions that Detmold offered. Hecompleted the first of his two Sextets, scored for twoviolins, two violas and two cellos, in 1860, when he wasagain in Hamburg. The form allowed him greaterfreedom than that of the string quartet, particularly in thehandling of the first cello, which introduces the firstsubject of the opening movement, a theme taken up bythe first violin and first viola, a procedure followed alsowith the second subject in a tripartite sonata-formmovement. The slow movement is a series of variations,a form of which Brahms was to demonstrate particularmastery. The D minor theme is stated by the first viola,in the full version, accompanied by the second viola andcellos in a characteristically full lower texture, beforepassing to the first violin. Shorter note values appear inthe following variations, with a fourth version in Dmajor. The original minor key is restored in the finalversion of the material, in which the first cello plays aleading part. There is a lively F major Scherzo and Trio,leading to a closing Rondo, which continues to make useof the possibilities of contrasting sonorities that theoriginal scoring allows.

Brahms wrote the greater part of his Second StringSextet during the summer of 1864, when he visited ClaraSchumann and her family at Lichtenthal, near Baden-Baden, while he himself stayed in the house of AntonRubinstein. The work, which is in G major, wascompleted the following May. The first movement startswith an air of mystery and tonal ambiguity, leading to asecond subject of particular beauty, and a transition thatmakes use of a motif associated with Agathe vonSiebold, to whom Brahms had become attached during astay in Gottingen in the summer of 1858. Therelationship was broken off the following year, butremembered by both. The motif uses the letters of hername, A - G - A - (D) - H (= B natural)- E. The secondmovement is a G minor Scherzo, partly derived from adance movement written some ten years before. This iscontrasted with a major-key syncopated Trio markedPresto giocoso. Once again Brahms turns to variationform for the slow movement, with a theme of Baroquesuggestion in the key of E minor, derived from an earliermelody that he associated with Clara Schumann andwhich is transformed in the opening theme of the firstmovement. The coda is in E major in a return to theoriginal tempo of the movement, after five variationsthat have offered changes of pace, rhythm and texture.

The Second Sextet ends with a sonata-rondo movement,concluding a work that seems to suggest what is tocome, while the First Sextet reflects rather the spirit ofDetmold and the two earlier Serenades, written duringthe composer's period of employment there.

Following current practice, both sextets werearranged for piano duo, a form in which these and otherworks became more widely available well into thetwentieth century.

Keith Anderson
Facts
Item number 8554817
Barcode 636943481721
Release date 01/01/2005
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Kohn, Christian
Matthies, Silke-Thora
Kohn, Christian
Matthies, Silke-Thora
Composers Brahms, Johannes
Brahms, Johannes
Disc: 1
String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36 (arr. piano
1 I. Allegro ma non troppo
2 II. Andante ma moderato
3 III. Scherzo (Allegro molto)
4 IV. Rondo (Poco allegretto e grazioso)
5 I. Allegro non troppo
6 II. Scherzo (Allegro non troppo)
7 III. Poco adagio
8 IV. Poco allegro
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