Johannes Brahms

String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36

    Description by John Palmer

    After Brahms' successful Sextet No. 1 in B flat Major, Op. 18 was published in 1862, he embarked on a second in September 1864, which was completed the following May. It was published in 1866, and the first performance followed on February 3, 1867, in Vienna. Quieter and more reflective than the first sextet, the second did not achieve the immediate success enjoyed by its predecessor. During the composition of the Second Sextet, Brahms kept the work to himself. Brahms' relationship with Agathe von Siebold, a singer in Göttingen for whom he had composed the Lieder, Op. 14 and Op. 19, had reached a point of such intensity that both she and her friends assumed an engagement was imminent. Brahms was intent on continuing to see Siebold, although he did not wish to "wear fetters," as he put it in a letter to her. Siebold broke off the relationship, leaving Brahms despondent. The Sextet, Op. 36, is really dedicated to her. Three times near the end of the first-movement exposition the first and second violins, together, spell "Agathe" by playing the pitches A-G-A-D-H-E ("H" is the German designation for B natural). After the composition of the Sextet, Brahms noted to a friend, "Here I have freed myself from my last love."

    The themes of all four movements are related. The first opens with a rising fifth that proceeds up a half step, only to leap up another fifth. The theme of the Adagio third movement follows the same pattern except the leaps are fourths separated by a whole step. The tremolo opening of the fourth movement includes leaps of fourths and fifths and movement by whole steps, while these same intervals permeate the ensuing thematic material. Leaps of fourths and fifths are buried in the accompaniment of the Scherzo, while the Trio theme features the original pattern in the opposite direction.

    From the beginning, the ambivalent main theme of the Allegro ma non troppo first movement shifts between G major and E flat major, a repeated G - F sharp tremolo in the first viola providing the only anchor in the nebulous first 30 measures. The tremolo permeates the entire development section of the lengthy movement, the coda of which presents the main theme fully in G major, without the E flat inflections.

    Instead of placing a slow movement second, Brahms follows the Allegro with a somewhat gloomy, minor mode Scherzo in 2/4 meter. A jocular central section, shifting to the major and a 3/4 meter, provides a foil to the mood of the Scherzo. The pensive Adagio, a set of five variations with a coda, contains some of the most dense contrapuntal layering of the sextet. The stormy finale is a combination of rondo and sonata forms. The opening six measures reappear several times on different harmonies, dominating the texture of the movement.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro non troppo
    2. Scherzo. Allegro non troppo
    3. Adagio
    4. Poco Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Avie AV 2294
    2017 Erato 0190295888374
    2017 CAvi-music AVI 8553340
    2017 Audite AUDITE 97715
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88843095342
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 555054
    2015 Bayer Records BR 100370
    2015 Claves 501410
    2015 Alto 1272
    2014 Claves
    2014 La Dolce Volta LDV 253
    2014 Foghorn Classics FCL 2012
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290840108
    2013 Praga / Praga Digitals PRDDSD 250297
    2012 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4093
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 RCA Red Seal 88725451452
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902075
    2010 Denon Records
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 E1 Music / Koch 7721
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Avi 553049
    2008 Hyperion 44331/42
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2007 BIS 1504
    2007 Camerata Records 28115
    2007 Onyx ONYX 4019
    2006 Doremi Records 5705
    2005 Naxos 8 554817
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Nonesuch
    2005 MDG 3071281
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Brilliant 92392
    2003 Brilliant 99800
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474358
    2003 Warner Classics
    2001 Vox 7903
    2001 Aura Classics 0426
    2001 Marc Aurel Edition 4
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 574957-2
    2000 Claves 508014
    2000 Nonesuch 7559-79545-2
    2000 Dynamic 158
    1999 Signum UK 013
    1999 CRD Records 3436
    1998 Jecklin 712
    1997 RCA 902661772
    1996 Biddulph Recordings LAB120/1
    1996 Philips 454 073-2PB11
    1996 MDG 0655
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449611
    1996 Doron Music 4007
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 68252
    1996 Arte Nova 34015
    1996 Arizona Chamber 94101
    1995 ZYX Music 4185
    1995 Art of Classics 885925
    1995 Koch Schwann 313652
    1994 Hungaroton 11591
    1993 Chandos CHAN9151
    1992 Naxos 550436
    1992 Sony Classical 45820
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 419875
    1990 Sony Classical 46249
    1988 Hyperion CDA20276
    1988 Hyperion 66276
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 820732
    Arte Nova 46486
    Sony CMG 011
    Denon Records 2141
    CRD Records 3346
    Monopoly 2058
    ASV 4016
    Cactus Pear Music Festival
    Arte Nova 496932
    RCA Gold Seal 7965
    Memoria 991013
    Arte Nova 46483
    Brilliant 92392/16
    Brilliant 99800/10
    Brilliant Classics 93554/19