Johannes Brahms

String Sextet No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 18

    Description by John Keillor

    Johannes Brahms completed his String Sextet in B flat Major No. 1, Op. 18, in 1860. It is in four movements and slightly less than 40 minutes in duration. The composer was still in his twenties when he wrote this work, and while it clearly bears his artistic stamp, it also betrays the strength of his early influences, including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Early works such as these make it sometimes difficult to determine the true direction of Brahms' musical vision except that he loved the music that had been coming out of Vienna for the last hundred years. However, it is also true that the full Romantic writing of the generation directly preceding his own, that of Schumann, who discovered and promoted him, is absent in Brahms' compositions. This first sextet reveals an especially acute understanding of Schubert's later writing. There is as much Classical order in this sextet as there are Romantic leanings. The use of a string sextet as an ensemble was comparatively new. Spohr provided the only notable precedent. Brahms is also partial to certain Baroque conventions, such as the fugato in the Andante second movement.

    The first String Sextet was written in the summertime, while Brahms was vacationing on the banks of the Elbe. Its ineluctable, Viennese strains seem to come through in spite of his pride in being a tough kid from Hamburg. The sweetness of Vienna's indigenous sound comes through in this work, which is perhaps why it keeps reconfiguring its textures, resisting the urge to bathe in the loveliness of the city's soundscape, which can reduce itself to alkaline desolation in a matter of moments. That was the bizarre danger about Vienna that this sextet works with; it is a city that loves music, especially its waltzes and its famous composers. Becoming part of that scene can easily reduce a musician to an imitator, making it undesirable, yet it is ironically a mecca for composers. While Wagner and Schumann broke with its expectations, Brahms worked with them, loved the city's paradox, and never allowed musical sleaze to get the upper hand. His music is so eventful because he does not want to be pinned onto a dance floor laden with waltzing Viennese locals. It is a strange risk to take but it resulted in wonderfully enduring music.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro, ma non troppo
    2. Theme & Variations. Andante, ma moderato
    3. Scherzo. Allegro molto
    4. Rondo. Poco Allegretto e grazioso

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Hänssler Classic HC 16084
    2017 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 129
    2017 Avie AV 2294
    2017 CAvi-music AVI 8553340
    2017 Erato 0190295888374
    2017 Audite AUDITE 97715
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 555054
    2015 Onyx Classics ONYX 4154
    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 Praga / Praga Digitals PRDDSD 250297
    2012 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4093
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 Music@Menlo LIVE 201101
    2010 Denon Records
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 Haenssler 98539
    2009 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2009 Documents Classics 232729
    2009 E1 Music / Koch 7721
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Hyperion 44331/42
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2007 Camerata Records 28115
    2007 Onyx ONYX 4019
    2006 Doremi Records 5705
    2005 Naxos 8 554817
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Raumklang 006
    2004 Brilliant 92392
    2003 Brilliant 99800
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474358
    2001 Music & Arts CD1083
    2001 Vox 7903
    2001 Aura Classics 0426
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 574957-2
    2000 MDG 3070969
    2000 Dynamic 158
    1999 Intersound 5337
    1999 Signum UK 013
    1999 CRD Records 3436
    1998 Jecklin 712
    1998 Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution 56481
    1998 EMI Music Distribution CD-CFP6039
    1997 Camerata Records 93
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 290882
    1997 Biddulph Recordings 093
    1997 Arizona Chamber 96102
    1996 Philips 454 073-2PB11
    1996 MDG 3030656
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 449611
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 68252
    1996 Arte Nova 34015
    1996 Harmonia Mundi HMA190 1073
    1995 Art of Classics 885925
    1995 Koch Schwann 313652
    1994 Hungaroton 11591
    1994 Sony Classical 58994
    1993 Chandos CHAN9151
    1992 EMI Classics 754216-2
    1992 EMI Classics
    1992 Naxos 550436
    1992 Sony Classical 45820
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 44851
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 419875
    1988 Hyperion 66276
    1988 Hyperion CDA20276
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 820732
    Pro-Arte Records 3433
    As Disc 358
    Arte Nova 46486
    Praga 250166
    CRD Records 3334
    Denon Records 2141
    MDG MDG907 0969-5
    Monopoly 2058
    ASV 4016
    Lyrinx 88
    Arte Nova 46483
    Harmonia Mundi HMA195 1073
    Brilliant 99800/10
    Brilliant Classics 93554/19
    Brilliant 92392/16