Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), born in Hamburg, spent most of his adult life in Vienna, Austria. His early influences, however, greatly impacted his music. Brahms loved folklore; this stemmed from his avid reading of German romantic poetry. A group of Hungarian refugees exposed him to the Hungarian/Gypsy style. This style, involving irregular rhythms and triplets, stayed with Brahms and exhibits itself in many of his later compositions. Brahms brought together the form and technique of classic era music, while using the expressions of the Romantic era. His harmony, generally more colorful than Beethoven’s, was not as bold as Wagner’s or Liszt’s. Brahms used ideas from Palestrina to Schumann, again utilizing his love of folk tales. His lifelong friendship with Joseph Joachim impacted his life in numerous ways. While visiting Joachim one summer, he presented himself to Robert and Clara Schumann, resulting in the momentous relationship between them all. Brahms spent the first part of the 1860s working on chamber music. His style involved Beethoven’s motivic and thematic projection, tonal shifts, and large climaxes, Schubert’s long, evolving melodies, and combined these with the folkmusic rhythms and drones of his youth. This style remained in his compositions for the rest of his life. He also greatly influenced other composers: Elgar and Vaughan Williams in England and Fauré’s textures and rhythms in France.
Brahms wrote String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 in 1864-1865 as a representation of letting go of his love for Agathe von Siebold, with whom he had been involved six years previously. Written for two violins, two violas, two cellos, the work has four movements: Allegro non troppo; Scherzo; Poco Adagio; and Poco Allegro. In the first movement, the piece begins with a pulsing figure in the viola. This continues until m. 32. The pulsing is repeated throughout the movement on various pitch levels. The exposition climaxes on notes representing Agathe’s name, with “D” used in place of “T” and “B”, which is “H” in German. In the second movement, the trio contains a folklike melody. The third movement uses the theme and variations with descending chromatic lines throughout, possibly reflecting sadness. The finale is upbeat, and contains gentle dance-like passages, possibly characterizing a last dance with Agathe.
Here is the link to the pdf:
I am comparing String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 to one of his early piano sonatas. Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 5, seems to reflect more Romantic characteristics than the sextet. It uses large, dynamically-varied block chords with a highly emotional sound to them and considerable chromaticism. The sound more resembles Beethoven’s later works and has a thick texture. The sextet has a thin texture through most of the piece, and does not use as varied dynamics.
Here is the youtube link:
When I looked for a piece, it seemed interesting that Brahms wove his former fiance’s name into the composition. In fact, it appeared that the letters in her name were the chords most prominently used with the first movement, although they were not always in the order of her spelled name.
Bozarth, George S. and Walter Frisch. "Brahms, Johannes." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 11, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/51879.
IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library. String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36. http://imslp.org/wiki/String_Sextet_No.2,_Op.36_%28Brahms,_Johannes%29.
Keller, James. Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Palmer, John. “String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36.” AllMusic.com, 2014. Web site. http://www.allmusic.com/composition/string-sextet-no-2-in-g-major-op-36-mc0002364393.
Parson, Edward. “String Sextets of Johannes Brahms.” Michigan Law School Chamber Music Seminar. November 14, 2007. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~parson/website/pdf/02-chamber-music-seminar-notes-brahms-sextets.pdf.
Swafford, Jan. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music. New York: Vintage Press, 1992.