Beethoven's Wind Sextet carries the rather misleading opus number of 71. Though this seems to suggest a date of composition contemporary with the titanic works of the composer's middle period, the work was actually written in 1796 and remained unperformed for nearly a decade. By the time he contemplated publishing the work in 1810, Beethoven informed his publishers Breitkopf & Härtel that he had written the work "in a single night." That claim, however, should perhaps be discounted, for it is well known that Beethoven did not share Mozart's gift of spontaneous inspiration, and that he almost invariably refined and reworked pieces, often over a period of years. No sketches for the Sextet survive.
The sextet consists of four movements, all of them falling into established Viennese Classical patterns but having the young composer's distinctively sharper edge. It owes a good deal to Mozart's well-known wind serenades. The work begins with an Adagio introduction in 4/4 time, followed by a vigorous triple-meter Allegro. Next comes a reflective Adagio, in which Beethoven explores the instruments' darkest, most serious registers. (It is revealing in this context to compare the wind textures Beethoven employs here to those in Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, K. 479a.) The third movement is a characteristic Viennese Minuet, marked Quasi allegretto), followed by a bracing, effervescent Rondo finale, marked (Allegro).