STRING SEXTET NO. 1 in B-FLAT
MAJOR, OP. 18
Recording: Verdi Quartet (Susanne Rabenschlag, 1st
Violin; Johannes Hehrmann, 2nd violin; Karin Wolf,
viola; Zoltan Paulich, cello) with Hermann Voss, 2nd
Viola; Peter Buck, 2nd cello [Hänssler 98.539]
Brahms regarded the
string quartet as a hallowed genre, and treated it with the
same reverence he famously held for the symphony. In his
first works for strings without piano, he added “extra”
instruments to the quartet to get a sense of writing for
strings while having two more instruments to aid him with
harmony and texture. The advantage of this is seen at
the outset of the first sextet, when the first cello presents
the opening theme against the bass provided by the second
cello, something that would be impossible in a quartet.
The pair of violas often plays in parallel harmony, creating
another sound that cannot be heard in a quartet. In a
sense, Brahms was conceding that it was easier to write for
more instruments to “get his feet wet” before attempting the
leaner and more “hallowed” genre of the quartet, for which he
claimed to have made over 20 abortive attempts. The
first of the two sextets is an excellent product of the
youthful Brahms and technically, the earliest of his chamber
works that is played with any regularity (the original version
of the Op. 8 Trio being rarely heard today). He still
uses a traditional Beethovenian scherzo movement here (in
third position), something he would largely abandon later on
(but, as he would do later, he sets it in a contrasting
key). The outer movements, while extremely expansive,
have very clear-cut classical forms. Both are sunny,
melodious movements in an almost “pastoral” vein. There
are parallels between them, as both begin with the cello
presenting the principal theme, and both end with prominent
parts. The second movement is perhaps the most
famous. It is a noble, if quite square Theme and
Variations that boasts an especially exquisite coda. The
variations are structurally strict, but diverse
transformations. This movement exists in an often-played
version for solo piano. Its stern minor key adds a
striking contrast to the rest of the Sextet’s
brightness. The character of the work is often compared
to that of the two orchestral Serenades (Opp. 11 and 16) with
which it is roughly contemporary.
FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institute
IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche
Movement: Allegro ma non troppo (Sonata-Allegro form).
B-FLAT MAJOR, 3/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme
1. A warm, expressive melody played by the first cello
in a swaying triple meter, with the second cello accompanying
as a bass. The first viola plays an undulating
0:17 [m. 10]--The
violins enter, leading into a second statement of the melody
from the first violin and first viola in octaves. It is
more fully scored, with the first cello and second violin
playing the undulating background. The second viola has
not yet entered.
0:32 [m. 20]--A new
phrase increases the intensity of the theme. The second
viola finally enters, joining the first cello and second
violin on syncopated repeated notes as the music makes an
unexpected detour to D-flat major.
0:50 [m. 31]--The
first violin plays a winding broken-chord line, then, with the
first viola, leads the other instruments, who slide upward
chromatically (skipping no notes) in thirds, to a gentle
cadence in B-flat.
1:09 [m. 43]--Transition.
fragment of Theme 1 in second violin and second cello, against
a syncopated background from second viola, leads to a new
element in the first violin. This is a series of
winding, melancholy triplets with active accompaniment from
the first viola. Motion toward F major.
1:23 [m. 51]--Restatement
at a higher level of the Theme 1 fragment with syncopated
background, followed by winding, melancholy triplets in the
first violin. The accompaniment moves from first viola
to second cello, with the bass remaining in the first
cello. The triplets are extended by two bars. The
first violin slows to a “straight” rhythm. Brahms marks
for a slight slowing as the music reaches the new key of A
1:41 [m. 61]--Transition
While this is a new melody, it is in the “wrong” key and
another melody in the expected key of F will follow.
This melody is therefore properly labeled as a “transition
theme.” Plucked notes from second viola and second cello
punctuate short rising, richly harmonized phrases from the
other instruments. These gentle phrases strive ever
higher. The accompanying instruments play two bowed
“bridge“ passages, then the second viola introduces
distinctive plucked rising arpeggios. These arpeggios
are then bowed by first cello and second viola as the music
moves decisively to F major.
2:18 [m. 85]--Theme
2. Right at the cadence, the first cello begins the
sweeping, exuberant second theme. Second
violin and second viola provide an accompaniment in a clashing
triplet rhythm with wide arpeggios. The second cello
provides a steady bass (F major).
2:30 [m. 94]--First
violin and first viola take Theme 2. The first cello
joins the accompaniment, but in straight rhythms like the
theme. The theme reaches higher and higher before being
2:42 [m. 103]--A brief
moment of disquiet as the violas and first cello pluck an
isolated figure from Theme 2 with dissonant, chromatic
notes. These are played against a long held note (then a
third) from the first violin and a dissonant, oscillating
second violin. Bowed cellos on the Theme 2 fragment lead
to the Closing Theme.
2:48 [m. 107]--Closing
Theme. It is derived from the Theme 2 fragment that was
just isolated. It begins in gentle harmony, with the
cellos providing an oscillating line in octaves. On the
second phrase, the violas move away from the melody and
provide dovetailing descents in response, which are picked up
by the cellos, who play them in rhythm with the theme (F
3:00 [m. 115]--The
first violin adds a new countermelody with dotted (long-short)
rhythm on top of the Theme 2 fragment. The second violin
and first viola begin to play plucked chords. The music
very gradually intensifies.
3:11 [m. 123]--The
countermelody is transferred to the second viola and second
cello. The violins now play the dovetailing descending
figures. The first viola continues its plucked chords,
now played with the first cello. The climax is reached,
but quickly subsides as the exposition ends with echoes of the
countermelody from the second violin and second viola. A
hint at Theme 1 in the second violin and first cello serves as
a transition to the repeat.
3:38 [m. 1]--Theme 1
from the first cello, as at the beginning.
3:51 [m. 10]--Violin
statement of Theme 1 melody, as at 0:17.
4:07 [m. 20]--New
phrase and motion to D-flat major, as at 0:32.
4:24 [m. 31]--Winding
line and cadence in B-flat, as at 0:50.
4:43 [m. 43]--Transition
with Theme 1 fragment and melancholy triplets, as at 1:09.
4:57 [m. 51]--Continuation
of transition at higher level and motion to A major, as at
5:15 [m. 61]--Transition
Theme in A major, as at 1:41.
5:52 [m. 85]--Theme 2
from the cello in F major, as at 2:18.
6:04 [m. 94]--First violin
and viola on Theme 2, as at 2:30.
6:16 [m. 103]--Dissonant
moment of disquiet, as at 2:42.
6:22 [m. 107]--Closing
Theme derived from Theme 2 fragment, as at 2:48.
6:34 [m. 115]--Countermelody
first violin and slow intensification, as at 3:00.
6:46 [m. 123]--Buildup
to climax and end of exposition, as at 3:11. The hint at
Theme 1 in the second violin and first cello now transitions
out of the exposition into the development section.
7:12 [m. 141]--The
development emerges seamlessly and begins to work with Theme 1
in the key of G minor (relative to the home major key of
B-flat). Fragments of Theme 1 are passed between the
first viola and the two violins. The accompanying
instruments are plucked. An arching figure in shorter
notes emerges, leading into the next section.
7:38 [m. 158]--Motion
to a new minor key, A minor. A three-note descending
arpeggio beginning on an upbeat is isolated from Theme
1. It was heard in the previous passage as well.
It is passed between second violin and first cello in
alternation. The two violas in harmony present
overlapping, syncopated responses that connect the violin and
cello. The music moves to D minor. The first
violin enters with the arpeggio beginning on the downbeat,
creating a rather dense counterpoint at the end of the
8:00 [m. 173]--Forceful
of the triplets from the transition at 1:09 and 4:43 [m. 43]
in G minor. First violin and then first viola play them
against a rich and fully scored accompaniment in “straight”
rhythm. Buildup to a huge climax with repeated notes and
full scoring for all six instruments. The two violins
play in triplet rhythm. The violins and cellos suddenly
drop out at the top of the climax, leaving the two violas,
whose pulsations slow to longer notes, to bring the music back
down to a quiet level.
8:29 [m. 192]--Development
of the transition theme from 1:41 and 5:15 [m. 61] in E
minor. It is first heard in the violins against the
continuing viola pulsation. It is then played by the
first cello. The cello statement changes key, to D
minor. The two violins and the first cello then play the
theme in imitation, leading to a full cadence in D minor.
9:02 [m. 214]--Re-transition,
with the D-minor cadence. Note the highly syncopated
bass in the second cello. Material from Theme 1 is
passed between the first cello and the violas. There is
a buildup of intensity as the music moves back to the home key
of B-flat. The syncopation moves up to first cello and
second viola. The violins enter with the Theme 1
material Then the syncopations are taken by the violins
over a huge swelling of volume as the moment of return is
9:34 [m. 234]--Theme
1. It enters in a new, powerful, and fully scored
version. The lower instruments take the melody while the
violins (and second cello) continue the syncopations from the
end of the development.
9:48 [m. 243]--The new
phrase from 0:32 and 4:07 [m. 20] begins in the violins, with
the syncopation moving to the violas and first cello. It
moves in a different direction from before, avoiding the
motion to D-flat. It maintains the power and builds even
more, leading to very high notes in the first violin over
richly scored accompaniment.
10:09 [m. 257]--The
winding broken-chord line from 0:50 and 4:24 [m. 31] begins in
the second violin. The first violin adds high octave
doubling on certain two-note figures within the broken-chord
line. As in the exposition, sliding chromatic notes in
the violas and cellos are heard as the violins lead to a
cadence. This time, however, the intensity from the
beginning of the recapitulation is still maintained, and the
cadence is powerful rather than gentle.
10:27 [m. 269]--Transition.
very similar to 1:09 and 4:43 [m. 43] in the exposition, but
an alteration to the triplet line causes the music to stay at
home in B-flat instead of moving toward F.
10:41 [m. 277]--The
passage is analogous to 1:23 and 4:57 [m. 51], but the second
violin plays a decorated variant of the Theme 1
fragment. The triplet passage now begins at the same
level as the previous one instead of higher. Other than
the fact that the active accompaniment stays in the first
viola instead of moving to the cello, the triplets are
completely analogous, with their extension and slowing.
Because of the alteration from before, the new arrival key is
D major rather than A major.
10:59 [m. 287]--Transition
1:41 and 5:15 [m. 61]. The recapitulation is supposed to
remain in the home key, but in order to get there, Brahms sets
the “extra” transition theme in D major, which has the same
relationship to B-flat as A major did to F in the
exposition. It follows the theme from the exposition
rather closely, with some important voicing changes.
These include the plucked accompaniment being played only by
second cello, and the later, faster rising plucked arpeggio
being played by the first viola instead of the second.
Decisive motion back to B-flat and strong arrival.
11:38 [m. 311]--Theme
2, now in the home key. It is played by the first viola
instead of the first cello. The accompanying instruments
are the same as in the exposition at 2:18 and 5:52 [m. 85].
11:51 [m. 320]--Since
the first viola had the previous presentation, Brahms now
assigns the first cello to double the first violin on the
restatement of Theme 2. The first viola takes the first
cello’s previous “straight” accompaniment as heard at 2:30 and
6:04 [m. 94]. Buildup of intensity as the music reaches
higher before being interrupted.
12:03 [m. 329]--Moment
of disquiet, as at 2:42 and 6:16 [m. 103]. The first
viola now harmonizes with the long notes in the first violin,
leaving the dissonant plucked figure to the second viola and
12:10 [m. 333]--Closing
theme in the home key, with the same scoring as at 2:48 and
6:22 [m. 107].
12:22 [m. 341]--First
violin countermelody, as at 3:00 and 6:34 [m. 115]. Very
gradual intensification. The plucked chords are played
by second violin and second (not first) viola, and there are
other scoring reassignments.
12:34 [m. 349]--Countermelody
to first viola and second cello, similar to 3:11 and 6:46 [m.
123]. Climax and subsequent dissolution/relaxation to
end the recapitulation. Essentially, the viola parts are
reversed from the exposition in this passage.
12:55 [m. 363]--The
coda begins with a dreamy, lingering passage based on Theme
1. It is similar to the beginning of the development,
but remains in the major key. The first cello leads,
followed by first viola, and the other instruments join in a
final swell of intensity and retreat that includes chromatic
notes. The second violin plays an oscillating
accompanying, the second cello a long pedal bass note that
becomes syncopated during the retreat. Descending
figures lead smoothly into the final passage as the music
13:33 [m. 387]--Brahms
marks the slower ending “Poco più Moderato.” The first
viola plays the Closing Theme in pizzicato (plucked strings). All
instruments except the second cello, which holds over its
pedal bass note, are now plucked, punctuating the melody with
chords. The first violin takes over from the first
viola, and the second cello finally abandons its long bowed
note to join the pizzicato.
All remains quiet and gentle through a high-reaching arrival
and subsequent confirming cadence gestures. Then
suddenly, the instruments take up their bows for the strong
14:03--END OF MOVEMENT [398
Movement: Andante, ma moderato (Theme and Variations).
D MINOR, 2/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme,
Part 1. The first viola presents the broad, noble, and
somewhat tragic theme. It begins with an upbeat.
The violins are absent. The lower instruments have
accompanying chords that are steady, strong, and
austere. Note the many florid decorations in the
melody. Part 1 ends on a half-close.
0:24 [m. 9]--Theme,
Part 1, Varied Repeat. The first violin now plays the
theme an octave higher, and with the entry of the violins, the
accompaniment becomes more rhythmic and full, especially in
the first viola, which just gave up the melody to the first
violin. It plays very forceful, rhythmic gestures.
0:45 [m. 17]--Theme,
Part 2. The second phrase of the Theme is again given to
the first viola, with the violins dropping out. The
steady accompaniment continues. Part 2 is somewhat more
striving and tense than Part 1. The cadence is extremely
satisfying. The viola reaches into its very highest
1:08 [m. 25]--Theme,
Part 2, Varied Repeat. The second phrase is repeated an
octave higher by the first violin. The accompaniment is
again more full and rhythmic. The cadence is even more
satisfying as the violin reaches into its very high register.
1:29 [m. 33]--Variation
1, Part 1. The first cello begins a broken-chord
“deconstruction” of the theme, which is echoed and imitated by
higher instruments, who enter from the bottom up. First
viola and second cello play accompaniment from the outset,
with the other instruments also taking an accompanying role as
the “deconstructed” theme is passed to higher
instruments. At the close, there is a quick downward
1:48 [m. 33]--Variation
1, Part 1 repeated.
2:07 [m. 41]--Variation
1, Part 2. The second phrase passes the “deconstructed”
theme more freely between the instruments in a sort of
2:25 [m. 41]--Variation
1, Part 2 repeated.
2:43 [m. 49]--Variation
2, Part 1. The violins, imitated by the violas,
intensely play a new, forceful triplet rhythm. The
second half of the phrase is more gentle and restrained in the
violins, who turn to “straight‘ rhythm. The violas
quietly continue the triplet rhythm underneath them, creating
a fine example of Brahms’s famous clashing rhythms. A
strong downward cello line in triplets leads to the repeat or
to Part 2.
3:01 [m. 49]--Variation
2, Part 1 repeated.
3:20 [m. 57]--Variation
2, Part 2. The second phrase follows the pattern of the
first, with the forceful triplets followed by the more gentle
second half and the clashing rhythms. There is a
powerful crescendo at the end, with another strong cello line.
3:38 [m. 57]--Variation
2, Part 2 repeated.
3:57 [m. 65]--Variation
3, Part 1. The cellos stormily rush up and down.
The other instruments respond with short two-note
figures. There is a buildup in the second half as the
cellos play a sequence of rising scales. At the end, the
violins and violas play rushing, descending scales to close
off the phrase.
4:14 [m. 65]--Variation
3, Part 1 repeated.
4:31 [m. 73]--Variation
3, Part 2. The cellos continue their rapid, stormy,
arching scales in octaves. Slightly longer responses
from the other instruments. The second half has another
buildup with rising cello scales. This time, the violins
emphatically play the closing gesture of the theme during the
last of them. Descending, decorated scales from violins, then
violas end the variation.
4:49 [m. 73]--Variation
3, Part 2 repeated.
5:06 [m. 81]--Variation
4, Part 1. A dramatic shift to the major key (still on
the same keynote, D, as is typical with “modal shifts” in
variation movements). This version of the melody is
extremely warm and expressive. It is played by first
violin and first viola with a gently descending accompaniment
from second viola and first cello. The second violin
only joins at the very end of the phrase with a low
5:26 [m. 89]--Variation
4, Part 1, Varied Repeat. For the repeat, the first
violin takes the melody an octave higher, while the first
viola stays at the same level. This time, the second
violin plays the descending accompaniment with the first
cello, the second viola taking over the low harmonization at
5:46 [m. 97]--Variation
4, Part 2. For the second phrase, the music becomes
slightly more intense, as in the original theme. It is
also highly chromatic, with a long rising half-step
scale. The second violin and first viola now play the
melody. The first violin is entirely absent for the
phrase. The descending accompaniment is again in second
viola and first cello.
6:08 [m. 105]--Variation
4, Part 2, Varied Repeat. In an intensification, the two
violins now play the melody an octave higher than the first
statement. The first viola joins the
accompaniment. Brahms indicates great expressiveness in
6:29 [m. 113]--Variation
5, Part 1. This variation remains in the major
key. After the swell of emotion at the end of the last
variation, it is suddenly very quiet. Both cellos drop
out completely. In a “music box” effect, the first viola
plays a variant of the melody in its very highest register
over a repeated “pedal point” D. The violins accompany
with short figures, usually descending octaves, also in a very
6:50 [m. 113]--Variation
5, Part 1 repeated.
7:11 [m. 121]--Variation
5, Part 2. The first viola continues its high melody
with the violin responses. Now the cellos join in with
descending plucked punctuations. In the second half of
the phrase, all the four top instruments play in harmony in a
lower range, the cellos continuing their short plucked
7:34 [m. 121]--Variation
5, Part 2 repeated.
7:56 [m. 129]--Coda,
Part 1. A full statement, without repeats, of the Theme
in its original minor-key form. It is played by the
first cello with light accompaniment. The violins play
short plucked figures as echoes.
8:41 [m. 144]--Coda,
Part 2. As the theme reaches its cadence, the violins
begin an extremely gentle and organically emerging
extension. A short phrase derived from the end of the
theme is passed twice between violins in harmony and first
cello, then the violins play a longer phrase. The second
cello plays a constant, throbbing low D.
8:58 [m. 150]--Coda,
Part 2, continued. The previous sequence is repeated
with cello and violins responding to the viola pair, the
violas then playing the longer phrase. The second cello
continues its constant low D, moving only during the last
viola phrase. The entire extension mixes major and
minor, and the final four closing bars after the last viola
phrase move decisively to a warm major-key cadence.
9:34--END OF MOVEMENT [159
Movement: Scherzo - Allegro molto; Trio - Animato (Scherzo
with Trio). F MAJOR, 3/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--A rustic
and heavy tune with strong accents and trills. The
violins play it in harmony with a steady, wide-ranging bass
from plucked cellos in unison. The violas enter in the
third bar with brief rising figures. These develop into
a more active counterpoint at the end of the twelve-bar
phrase. The last half also has a powerful crescendo and
key change that propel the phrase to a strong cadence in C
0:11 [m. 1]--Part 1
0:21 [m. 13]--Part
2. In a contrasting phrase, the six instruments enter in
imitation from top to bottom on the main tune. The music
turns briefly to minor. There are strong syncopated
accents on the third beats of bars, with notes and chords held
across bar lines. After all the instruments have
entered, the top lines become more active, leading to a quick
descending arpeggio and the return of the main material.
0:31 [m. 25]--Part 2,
continued. A quick return to major and a reprise of Part
1. The violas play in harmony from the outset, merging
into their counterpoint after six bars. After the first
eight bars, the remainder of the phrase is altered and
extended using material from the contrasting phrase.
This extension helps to avoid the key change, and the ending,
which returns to the Part 1 material, is in the home key after
an even more powerful increase of volume. The last four
rising notes are repeated for emphasis.
0:45 [m. 13]--Part 2
repeated. Reprise of contrasting phrase from 0:21.
0:55 [m. 25]--Reprise
of return and extension from 0:31. The repeated four
rising notes merge directly into the Trio.
TRIO - Animato
1:09 [m. 43]--Part
1. The Trio remains in F major. It is much
more animated and exuberant than the main Scherzo. It
grows out of the punctuating repeated notes at the end of the
Scherzo, which are restated an octave lower to lead into the
Trio. The cellos propel things forward with jubilant
rising arpeggios as all six instruments play together.
The material is based on a descending scale in a long-short
rhythm. Part 1 is brief, and quickly moves to C major,
as the Scherzo had done.
1:15 [m. 43]--Part 1
1:22 [m. 53]--Part
2. The six instruments play an expansion of the opening
figure in forceful unison. The trio material from part 1
is stated and extended in the unexpected and remote key of
D-flat. The extension becomes somewhat contemplative,
and culminates in a series of long-short two-note “sigh”
figures. These make a rather striking key change to
1:36 [m. 73]--Part 1
is restated and varied, beginning on B-flat and ending on
F. The key relationships are analogous to Part 1
itself. The restatement reaches somewhat higher at its
climax than had Part 1, and the violas are more active.
Ending and cadence in F major [to m. 82].
1:42 [m. 53]--Part 2
repeated. Reprise of unison passage and extended
statement in D-flat from 1:22.
1:57 [m. 73]--Reprise
of varied restatement of Part 1 beginning on B-flat and ending
2:05 [m. 1]--Part 1,
as at 0:00 and 0:11. No repetition.
2:15 [m. 13]--Part 2,
contrasting phrase, as at 0:21 and 0:45.
2:25 [m. 25]--Return
and extension, as at 0:31 and 0:55. The repeated four
rising notes lead to the coda.
2:39 [m. 83]--The coda
is based on the Trio and is approached in the same way.
It begins with the Trio’s first five bars, then digresses with
an elaboration and rising sequence of rhythmic figures derived
from the Trio, including a distinctive long-short-short-short
rhythm and descending scale fragments.
2:46 [m. 95]--All six
instruments come together for a large complete chromatic scale
(half-steps, skipping no notes) in unison. This emerges
into a series of rapidly repeated first violin notes with
accompanying chords moving like the descending scales from the
Trio. Two final chords end the movement.
2:57--END OF MOVEMENT [106
Movement: Rondo - Poco Allegretto e grazioso (Large true
Rondo form). B-FLAT MAJOR, 2/4 time.
FIRST RONDO THEME COMPLEX (A)
0:00 [m. 1]--The
expansive, sunny, and leisurely Rondo theme is played by the
first cello with light accompaniment from the second viola and
a plucked bass line from the second cello. The theme has
a regular phrase structure and is completely closed.
0:19 [m. 17]--The
theme is passed from the bottom three to the top three
instruments, the first violin taking the melody with smooth,
somewhat chromatic accompaniment from second violin and first
0:38 [m. 33]--A new
phrase, characterized by its two opening repeated chords,
which are played by second viola and second cello. The
first cello again takes the melody, which winds expansively
0:47 [m. 41]--Full
statement of the Rondo theme from all six instruments, with pizzicato strings in
first viola and first cello until the cadence. There is
a swell in volume during the second half, and the first violin
varies this part of the melody by striving higher than the
original tune at the climax and holding the top note over a
bar line. The volume diminishes at the cadence.
FIRST CONTRASTING SECTION (B)
1:05 [m. 57]--Transitional
moving away from the main Rondo melody. Some
reiterations of the closing cadence lead to a new detached
triplet rhythm in the upper three instruments.
This reaches a high point, then a quiet undulating passage
moves the music to F major.
1:22 [m. 71]--The
contrasting theme begins with a harmonized upward striving
figure which is immediately turned upside down by the cellos,
then relaxes and dissipates into a series of descending
figures (F major).
1: 29 [m. 77]--Another
leisurely and expressive melody in the character of the Rondo
theme. It is presented by the first violin and first
viola with undulating accompaniment from second viola and
first cello. The second cello holds a long F. The
second violin drops out during this melody. Motion to C
1:42 [m. 89]--Return
of the upward striving figure, which immediately steers the
music back to F. It is stated three times with
increasing intensity. The succeeding descent is in
longer notes, with pulsations in the cellos. It settles
to a cadence in F major.
1:56 [m. 101]--Statement
of the leisurely and expressive melody from the first
cello. It overlaps with the preceding cadence. The
first violin and first viola provide very quiet undulating
accompaniment. The second cello again holds a long F
that moves at the end. The second violin and second
viola are both absent during this statement of the melody,
which is extended by one bar and moves to the home key of
2:11 [m. 114]--Re-transition.
based on the upward striving figure, which is presented by the
cellos, to whom the violins respond. This merges into a
series of quiet repeated violin notes that then become
syncopated. The other instruments provide a very
chromatic accompaniment based on the Rondo theme. The
syncopations briefly oscillate between two notes. The
accompaniment then emerges as Rondo theme fragments passed
between the instruments over continued syncopation in the
violins. These nebulous fragments emerge joyously and
brilliantly into the Rondo theme itself.
SECOND RONDO THEME COMPLEX (A’)
2:38 [m. 138]--Statement
of the Rondo theme with full scoring. The theme is in
its original form, without the variations heard at 0:47 [m.
2:56 [m. 154]--The new
phrase from 0:38 [m. 33]. The repeated chords are again
played by second viola and second cello, the phrase itself by
first cello. The phrase is now extended two bars by
echoes in the violins.
3:08 [m. 164]--Full
statement of the Rondo melody, including the swell in volume
and varied climax with higher notes. The accompaniment
is different throughout. The first half has a new line
in descending arpeggios from the second violin that obscures
the rhythm by beginning the arpeggios off the beat. The
second half introduces triplet rhythms in the second violin
and second viola, and the pizzicato
notes only begin then, later than at 0:47 [m. 41] and 2:38 [m.
SECOND CONTRASTING SECTION (C)
3:26 [m. 180]--The
violins begins with forceful repeated notes derived from the
opening chords of the melody heard at 0:38 [m. 33] and 2:56
[m. 154]. The violas enter with rapidly sweeping
accompaniment figures passed between them. The cellos
follow the violins on the forceful repeated notes. These
become more active, with smaller note values, but the longer
repeated notes return in powerful octaves. B-flat major,
moving to D minor.
3:39 [m. 192]--A more
gentle phrase based on the same material is played in harmony
by the violas in E-flat major. The cellos play a low,
throbbing E-flat. The first cello joins the harmony
after five bars, leaving the low E-flat to the second
cello. Halfway through the expressive phrase, the
violins join as well, creating a warm, full harmony. The
low E-flat persists in the second cello until the half-close.
3:57 [m. 208]--The
forceful material returns in B-flat, overlapping with the
previous half-close. The repeated notes are now led by
the violas and the rapidly sweeping accompaniment figures are
now passed between the violins. Motion to G minor
instead of D minor.
4:05 [m. 216]--Stormy
and passionate development of the forceful material beginning
in G minor and quickly moving to C minor. The rapidly
sweeping gestures are passed between the second violin and
second viola while the first violin and first viola, followed
by the cellos, take the opening repeated notes. These
now sound like hammer blows. The material builds to an
intense climax as the repeated notes evolve into two-note
hammering gestures that fall in the upper instruments and rise
in the cellos. This is followed by a rapid subsiding,
with the first viola and first cello left alone on the
two-note figures. Motion to A-flat.
4:27 [m. 236]--The
gentle phrase from 3:39 [m. 192] returns, now in A-flat
major. It is decorated by occasional triplet
rhythms. The two-note rising figures continue from the
previous section in the accompaniment. The phrase
develops into a re-transition as the “sweeping figures” subtly
enter in the second violin. The repeated chords are
passed between the first violin and the lower three
instruments, the first viola continuing the two-note rising
figures. This material builds to an intense climax.
4:57 [m. 264]--The
climax marks the return of the home key. The music then
subsides in preparation for the return of the Rondo
theme. The second viola plays a triplet rhythm.
The cellos play long held notes in octaves, first on B-flat,
then on F, which has a very strong pull toward B-flat,
increasing the tension, anticipation, and expectation before
the return of the long-absent Rondo theme.
THIRD RONDO THEME COMPLEX (A”)
5:13 [m. 278]--Rondo
theme. In this statement, the four phrases are separated
with alternation. The second viola is completely absent,
and only the first viola plays continuously with a flowing
line. The violins play in the first and third phrases,
and the cellos in the second and fourth. Each pair drops
out when the other enters in alternation.
5:31 [m. 294]--Contrasting
from 0:38 [m. 33] and 2:56 [m. 154]. It is scored as at
2:56, but the extending echoes are played by the first viola
instead of the violins.
5:43 [m. 304]--An
unexpected key change sliding a half-step upward heralds a
presentation of the Rondo theme in B major from the first
cello. The statement is aborted by echoes from the
violins as the theme reaches its distinctive trills.
These echoes, reduced to two-note “sigh” figures over viola
syncopations, gently force the music back down to B-flat,
where quiet rising figures, the second in triplet rhythm, lead
to the next contrasting section.
THIRD CONTRASTING SECTION (B’)
6:04 [m. 322]--The
tune from 1:29 [m. 77] is now heard from the violins in the
home key of B-flat. It is not preceded by the upward
striving figures. The violas provide the undulating
accompaniment, while the second cello holds a long B-flat
before moving at the end. The tune changes keys, as it
has on its other appearances, moving to F major.
6:18 [m. 334]--The
upward striving figures have note been forgotten and are now
heard from the four upper instruments, the cellos immediately
inverting them. They lead back to B-flat major with a
gentle cadence after three statements. Their appearance
here is analogous to the one at 1:42 [m. 89].
6:31 [m. 346]--Statement
of the leisurely melody in B-flat, analogous to the one at
1:56 [m. 101]. The cello plays the melody, the first
violin and first viola the undulating accompaniment, while the
second cello again holds a long B-flat.
6:46 [m. 359]--Re-transition
on the upward striving figures, as at 2:11 [m. 114]. It
follows the course of the previous re-transition, with the
nebulous fragments of the Rondo theme and the high syncopated
violin notes. It is extended, however, by a long series
of leaps, descending in the first violin, ascending in the
second cello. These are derived from the previous ending
and serve to keep the music in the home key. The
syncopations have moved from the violins to the second viola,
who alone accompanies the two outer instruments on this
extension. The violin leaps move steadily downward, the
cello ones upward.
FOURTH RONDO THEME COMPLEX (A’”)
7:21 [m. 389]--The
Rondo theme is now stripped to its essential elements.
The two-note leaps in the previous re-transition carry their
character into the Rondo theme. It is reduced to groups
of two harmonized notes (with occasional upbeats), passed
between the upper three and the lower three instruments, who
alternate in every bar. The theme is still very
recognizable, and the cadence played by the first cello at the
end is as it has always been.
7:40 [m. 405]--Contrasting
last heard at 5:31 [m. 294]. The two violins now play
the repeated chords. The cello still has the melody, but
plays a variation in triplet rhythm. The second cello
plays plucked bass notes. The first viola joins the
violins, then they speed up the repeated chords over a
crescendo. The ending of the phrase is highly varied,
leading to the climactic statement of the Rondo theme.
7:52 [m. 415]--Climactic
of Rondo theme. The first cello, its original
instrument, plays it. The second violin, first viola,
and second cello play a plucked (pizzicato) accompaniment. The second
viola has an oscillating line in straight rhythm, and the
first violin crowns everything with a soaring line in
descending triplet figures. The first viola takes over
the melody from the first cello (which harmonizes it) in the
second half of the theme, which seems as if it is going to go
in the direction of the varied version with higher notes, but
avoids the cadence and continues.
8:10 [m. 432]--The
extension of the Rondo melody continues and swells to a
climax. Figures similar to the theme’s cadence gesture
lead to two more repeated notes held across bar lines.
The first violin now leads the melody. The descending
triplets move to the first viola. More cadence gestures
are played as the music diminishes. Four two-note
descending leaps in the violins (the last two stretched out
into a single one in the first violin) settle everything down
for the coda.
8:33 [m. 451]--The
repeated chords from the contrasting phrase is now plucked in
the lower four instruments. The violins linger on the
contrasting phrase itself, playing a variant with several
evocative chromatic notes that do not belong to B-flat major.
8:44 [m. 459]--The
lower instruments, except for second viola, now bow the
repeated chords. The violins, joined and harmonized by
the second viola, play another similar variant of the
contrasting theme with plucked strings (pizzicato).
8:56 [m. 468]--Brahms
now marks that the music should steadily accelerate with the
indication “Animato, poco a poco più.” The repeated
chords become very animated, passed between plucked violins
and plucked cellos. A detached running line in the first
viola propels the acceleration.
9:09 [m. 480]--The
violins and cellos are now bowed. The second viola
enters, taking over the pizzicato
element. The first viola continues its detached running
line. The repeated chords swell up and down the scale,
becoming ever faster. In the continuing alternation, the
second viola joins the cellos, abandoning the plucked
notes. A huge increase in volume leads to the final
climax, with the violas coming together in a fast tremolo-like
9:23 [m. 498]--In the
final passage, the fast viola tremolo is taken over by the
violins, who use it to punctuate the highly exuberant ending
9:48--END OF MOVEMENT [508
END OF SEXTET
THEME AND VARIATIONS IN D MINOR
FOR PIANO SOLO
Arranged from the second
movement of the Sextet, Op. 18
Recording: Martin Jones [NI
Set for Clara
Schumann as a friendly greeting on September 13, 1860
final revisions and publishing of the String Sextet in
B-flat, Clara Schumann heard Brahms trying it out.
Especially impressed with the variation movement, she
ardently requested that Brahms make a piano
arrangement. He did this, presenting it to her as a
birthday greeting in 1860, two years before the Sextet was
published. While the arrangement is performed
frequently and Brahms himself seems to have been
particularly fond of it, it has attracted negative
criticism as a piece of piano music. In attempting
to retain most of the music written for six instruments
while transferring it to two hands, Brahms asked for
several awkward techniques, including many wide rolled
chords and anticipatory bass notes jumping to the upper
harmonies. He also assigned a great deal of harmony
to the right hand, asking it to split chords with the left
hand under the melody, which makes voicing and projection
of the melody itself difficult. Continuity of inner
voices is also made difficult by the many jumps. The
rushing scales in variation 3 are far more effective on
cello strings than on piano keys. In general, the
piece demands a performer with very large hands. If
played with sensitivity, the arrangement can be highly
effective and virtuosic, although it is certainly inferior
to the idiomatic original version for strings, where it
also serves as part of a greater whole.
IMSLP (From Breitkopf &
Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
moderato. D MINOR, 2/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme,
Part 1. The right hand plays the middle-range melody
as well as the top parts of the supporting chords.
The florid decorations from the original are
retained. Part 1 ends on a half close.
0:25 [m. 9]--Theme,
Part 1, Varied Repeat. The melody moves up an
octave. The supporting chords are now all
rolled. Brahms preserves the rhythmic viola
gestures, requiring large jumps in both hands to cover the
off-beat notes and the top parts of harmonies. Some
bass notes toward the end must be played as anticipations
right before the left hand jumps to an inner line.
0:45 [m. 17]--Theme,
Part 2. The second phrase of the theme requires the
right hand to reach higher, leaving the left hand to play
widely spaced intervals that must be rolled by those with
smaller hands. More “anticipatory” bass notes
jumping to the inner line occur near the cadence.
1:06 [m. 25]--Theme,
Part 2, Varied Repeat. Again, the melody moves up an
octave and the supporting chords are all rolled. The
rhythmic gestures are maintained, as in the varied repeat
of Part 1. Because of the more upward reaching
melody, even larger jumps are required here.
1:27 [m. 33]--Variation
1, Part 1. The right hand plays the “deconstructed”
melody as it moves from the middle register to the upper
register, taking the roles of all the instruments to whom
it is passed in the original. The main beats and
some off beats are punctuated with rolled chords.
The quick downward motion at the end is passed to the left
1:47 [m. 33]--Variation
1, Part 1 repeated.
2:05 [m. 41]--Variation
1, Part 2. The more “arch-like” line of the second
phrase requires the left hand to participate in some of
the “deconstructed” theme, making large leaps. The
climax in the second half of the phrase includes
widely-spaced anticipatory bass notes.
2:24 [m. 41]--Variation
1, Part 2 repeated.
2:43 [m. 49]--Variation
2, Part 1. The forceful triplet rhythm in two-note
harmony is passed between the right and left hands.
The latter must leap up from initial downbeat
chords. The pianist’s technique for rapid repeated
thirds, sixths, and other intervals is tested here.
In the second half, which is more gentle, the right hand
plays the expressive line in “straight” rhythm, while the
left hand, playing in the middle register, presents the
rapidly repeated chords in triplet rhythm. More
anticipatory bass notes add to the difficulty of the left
hand part. The left hand also plays the heavy
descending bass lead-in to the repeat or to Part 2.
3:02 [m. 49]--Variation
2, Part 1 repeated.
3:22 [m. 57]--Variation
2, Part 2. The triplets continue to be passed
between the hands, but now the ones in the right hand
include three-note chords. In the more gentle second
half, as in Part 1, the right hand plays the expressive
line in “straight” rhythm while the left hand plays the
repeated triplet chords. There is a large crescendo
at the end leading to another heavy descending bass
lead-in from the left hand.
3:42 [m. 57]--Variation
2, Part 2 repeated.
4:02 [m. 65]--Variation
3, Part 1. The left hand plays the rushing, arching
scales, while the right hand plays two-chord
responses. In the second half, the left hand scales
are all ascending, requiring large jumps downward between
them. The right hand joins on the cascading downward
passage at the very end. The original octave
doubling between the cellos on these rushing scales is not
practical on the piano, and is only preserved at the
beginning of each run and at the tops of the arching
4:22 [m. 65]--Variation
3, Part 1 repeated.
4:41 [m. 73]--Variation
3, Part 2. The left hand continues its rushing,
arching scales. The responding chord passages from
the right hand are somewhat longer. The second half
has another buildup with rising scales and large
jumps. The right hand emphatically plays the final
cadence gesture from the original theme at the end.
Descending scales in the right hand, then in both hands,
end the variation.
5:00 [m. 73]--Variation
3, Part 2 repeated.
5:20 [m. 81]--Variation
4, Part 1. A dramatic shift to the major key (still
on the same keynote, D, as is typical with “modal shifts”
in variation movements). The warm, expressive
variation is quite effective on the piano. The
melody must be well voiced above the descending harmonies
in the middle voices. The first statement of the
melody is in the middle range.
5:36 [m. 89]--Variation
4, Part 1, Varied Repeat. The melody moves an octave
higher, and is doubled in octaves. The left hand
must take over the upper middle voice, played by the right
hand in the first statement of Part 1. This
necessitates anticipatory bass notes that jump to the
continuing middle voice lines.
5:54 [m. 97]--Variation
4, Part 2. Moving back to the middle range, Brahms
preserves the octave doubling of the melody in this
phrase. The middle voices are again split between
the hands, as in part 1, but because of the octave
doubling on the melody, the right hand is much more tricky
to execute here.
6:12 [m. 105]--Variation
4, Part 2, Varied Repeat. This varied repeat
includes an intensification. The melody moves up an
octave and is still played with octave doubling. The
middle voices (in octaves) must again be played by the
left hand only, requiring anticipatory bass notes, some of
them preceding very large jumps. There is a
softening at the very end of the variation.
6:32 [m. 113]--Variation
5, Part 1. This variation remains in the major
key. After the swell of emotion at the end of the
last variation, it is suddenly very quiet. The right
hand moves to the upper middle register to play a variant
of the melody and a repeated “pedal point” D in the middle
of the piano. The right hand plays very high
two-note responses, usually in thirds descending an
octave. This is a “music box” effect.
6:49 [m. 113]--Variation
5, Part 1 repeated.
7:07 [m. 121]--Variation
5, Part 2. The high left hand melody continues, as
do the right hand responses. The left hand now jumps
down to some punctuating low bass notes (transferred from
the cello parts). In the second half, both hands
play oscillating chords together, but moving in opposite
directions. The left hand still jumps for a couple
of low bass notes.
7:27 [m. 121]--Variation
5, Part 2 repeated.
7:48 [m. 129]--Coda,
Part 1. A full statement, without repeats, of the
Theme in its original minor-key form. The right hand
moves to the lower middle register to play the theme,
while the left hand plays considerably thinner bass
harmonies. The right hand jumps to play the short
echoing figures originally taken by the violins.
Most of these have rolled-chord harmonies, imitating
plucked strings, and are played very softly.
8:28 [m. 144]--Coda,
Part 2. The right hand plays the entire extension,
both the two upper presentations and the lower
responses. The harmonies are mostly in thirds.
The right hand also takes the longer “rounding” phrase
after the two statements and responses. The left
hand plays a constant throbbing low D, sometimes rolling
it to another one two octaves higher. At the end,
this D is moved up an octave and harmonized in the bass
(dropping out for one note in a moving harmony).
8:44 [m. 150]--Coda,
Part 2, continued. The previous sequence is
repeated, but the throbbing D is played in to the right
hand as well as the left in rolled octaves. The left
hand plays the initial presentations, while both hands
play the higher responses in full harmony. The
texture is very full. The “rounding” phrase is
played by the right hand in the middle of a full texture,
with the low throbbing left-hand notes moving down to A,
then back up to D for the final chords. The highest
right hand notes remain on D with one exception for a
moving harmony. The last chords in the major-key
cadence are played by the left hand.
9:38 (including “run-off”
time)--END OF PIECE [159 mm.]