Day 327: String Sextets

BrahmsCD21Johannes sure does love his pizzicato, the word for the plucking of stringed instruments (which, to me, always sounds like a character in a cartoon sneaking up on another character – you know, that tip-toe sound).

Because he uses it a lot.

So much so that its effect on me has diminished.

I used to love hearing it in a Classical composition, smiling whenever my ears would pick it out of a movement.

Now, I just think, “Must be Brahms.” Yawn.

Here’s what I’m listening to today:

String Sextet no. 1 in B flat Op. 18

Movement I (“Allegro ma non troppo”) runs the gamut from pastoral to pretentious, from melodic to mash-up. The instruments ebb and flow, sometimes building to a sound that resembles a “mash-up” video on YouTube in which someone has combined two songs into one. The ending of Movement I is all stringed instruments being plucked.

Why? I don’t know. Pizzicato is supposed to be like a caviar garnish – not a main course.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18, was composed in 1860 by Johannes Brahms. It was published in 1862 by the firm of Fritz Simrock.

The sextet is scored for two violins, two violas, and two cellos.

There are earlier examples by Luigi Boccherini (two sets of six each). However, between the Boccherini and the Brahms, very few for stringed instruments without piano seem to have been written or published, whereas within the decades following Brahms’ two examples, a number of composers, including Antonín Dvořák, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Joachim Raff, Max Reger, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, all wrote string sextets.

This sextet was used as soundtrack by French director Louis Malle in the movie “The Lovers” (“Les Amants”, 1958).

The sextet’s second movement is featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sarek”. The second movement is featured in “The Day of the Dead”, an episode of Inspector Morse.

Movement II (“Andante, ma moderato”) is actually very, very interesting. In fact, Continue reading